The UN World Tourism Organisation reported that 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded globally last year, up 4% on 2018.
UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili said that “in these times of uncertainty and volatility, tourism remains a reliable economic sector”.
The UNWTO predicted growth of between 3% and 4% for this year. Pololikashvili said: “Our sector keeps outpacing the world economy and calling upon us to not only grow but to grow better.”
The Middle East was the fastest-growing region for international tourism arrivals in 2019, growing at almost double the global average (+8%). Growth in Asia and the Pacific slowed down but still showed above-average growth, with international arrivals up 5%.
Europe, where growth was also slower than in previous years (+4%) continued to lead in terms of international arrivals numbers, welcoming 743 million international tourists last year (51% of the global market).
The Americas (+2%) showed a mixed picture as many island destinations in the Caribbean consolidated their recovery after the 2017 hurricanes while arrivals fell in South America due partly to ongoing social and political turmoil. Limited data available for Africa (+4%) pointed to continued strong results in North Africa (+9%) while arrivals in Sub-Saharan Africa grew slower in 2019 (+1.5%).
Against a backdrop of global economic slowdown, tourism spending continued to grow, most notably among the world’s top 10 spenders. France reported the strongest increase in international tourism expenditure among the world’s top 10 outbound markets (+11%), while the US (+6%) led growth in absolute terms, aided by a strong dollar.
However, some large emerging markets such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia reported declines in tourism spending. China, the world’s top source market saw outbound trips increase by 14% in the first half of 2019, though expenditure fell 4%.
“The number of destinations earning $1bn or more from international tourism has almost doubled since 1998,” said Pololikashvili. “The challenge we face is to make sure the benefits are shared as widely as possible and that nobody is left behind. In 2020, UNWTO celebrates the Year of Tourism and Rural Development, and we hope to see our sector lead positive change in rural communities, creating jobs and opportunities, driving economic growth and preserving culture.”