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Global tourist visits on track to pass 1-billion mark

Tourists and locals throng the Viktualienmarkt in Munich, Germany.

WTO reports record numbers for first half of 2012

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Travelers from some of the world’s biggest countries helped spur global tourism to a new record level during the first half of 2012, keeping the industry on track to pass the 1-billion mark for the first time this year.

Through the end of June, the World Tourism Organization tallied 467 million tourist visits worldwide, a 5 percent increase from the same period last year. Economic uncertainties may slow growth the rest of the year, but international arrivals are still forecast to exceed 1 billion by the end of 2012.

Economic powerhouses China (plus 30 percent), the Russian Federation (up 15 percent), the USA (plus 9 percent), Germany (plus 6 percent) and Canada (up 6 percent) led the way in terms of outbound markets. Japan showed an 8 percent increase in spending on overseas tourism, a sign of recovery in an important market.

Outbound tourism growth was comparatively slow or negative in the UK, Australia, Italy and France.

“Amid the current economic uncertainty, tourism is one of the few economic sectors in the world growing strongly, driving economic progress in developing and developed countries alike and, most importantly, creating much needed jobs,” UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai said last week, opening the Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macao.

“As we lead up to the milestone of one billion, we need to ensure that the tourism sector is supported by adequate national policies and that we work to reduce existing barriers to the expansion of the sector, such as complicated visa procedures, increased direct taxation or limited connectivity,” he added.

International arrivals were up in all regions between January and June 2012, including North Africa and the Middle East, where political turmoil and conflict took a bite out of the tourism economy last year.

Boosted by the recovery of Japanese inbound and outbound tourism, as well as by the continued strong performance of other major source markets, Asia and the Pacific showed the strongest growth, at 8 percent.

Destinations in South Asia and South-East Asia (both up 9 percent) showed some of the best results worldwide.

“Although Asia was affected by the economic crisis of 2008-2009 due to its strong linkages with other economies, the region has bounced back quickly and is today a leader in the global economy. This is clearly reflected in its tourism figures,” Rifai said.

European tourism was up 4 percent, consolidating record growth in 2011, despite continuing economic volatility in the Eurozone. Results were above the regional average in Central and Eastern Europe (up 7 percent), where many destinations saw double-digit growth, as well as in Western Europe ( up 5 percent).

By contrast, demand in Southern and Mediterranean Europe slowed down, but still grew 1 percent from a very strong 2011, and partly due to the recovery of destinations in North Africa and the Middle East.

The Americas grew in line with the world average (up 5 percent), with Central America ( plus 7 percent) and South America (plus 6 percent) recording the strongest results. In fact, South America has been one of the sub-regions with the fastest tourism growth of recent years. Destinations in North America grew at 4 percent, a relatively high rate for a mature sub-region, while growth in the Caribbean (up 5 percent) remained buoyant, consolidating 2011 results.

In Africa ( up 7 percent), the return of tourist flows to Tunisia is reflected in the results of North Africa ( up 11 percent). Likewise, the rebound of Egypt is clearly mirrored in the results of the Middle-East (plus 0.7 percent). Destinations in Sub-Saharan Africa (plus 6 percent) continued to show strong results, following the good growth rates of this sub-region in previous years.

For more information on tourism in 2011 see UNWTO Tourism Highlights.

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