Despite recent geopolitical challenges, including the outbreak of the ebola virus in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in west Africa, and continued civil unrest in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, international tourism has maintained steady growth and, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO's) world tourism barometer, in the first half of this year, global tourism increased by 5%. According to UNWTO’s latest report, between January and August this year, 781 million international tourists were recorded globally, which was an increase of 36 million from the same period in 2013.
Regionally, the strongest growth was recorded in the Americas, where tourism increased by 8%. The second largest growth was seen in Asia-Pacific, where UNWTO recorded a 5% increase in tourist numbers. Tourist flows into Europe increased by 4% according to UNWTO.
By sub-region, tourism inflows into North America increased by 9%, while south Asia witnessed a growth in inflows of 8%, and northern Europe, north-east Asia and South America all witnessed 7% annual growth. China’s position as the world’s leading source market for tourists remained unchanged since 2012. According to UNWTO, more than 200 million Chinese travelled globally, and they were also the largest spenders. Despite China’s recent economic slowdown, the country’s growing middle class and its substantial purchasing power has driven a buoyant global tourist market.
In contrast, continued conflict in parts of the Middle East – including the recent conflict in July this year between Israel and Palestine in Gaza, and the rise of the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the northern part of Iraq – led the region as a whole to witness modest tourism growth.
Meanwhile, the outbreak of ebola in parts of western Africa, including Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, have done much to dent tourist numbers to sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, the Middle East and Africa as a whole witnessed a modest growth of 3% according to UNWTO.
“International tourism in [African] countries where there is widespread transmission [of ebola] represents less than 1% of all international arrivals to African destinations,” Taleb Rifai, the UNWTO secretary-general said in an online statement. “Yet we have to be aware that misperceptions about the outbreak is affecting the whole of Africa. On the upside, and according to information gathered from our African member states and key tour operators and associations in major source markets, there are no significant cancellations to report, despite a certain slowdown in bookings”.