“Despite downside risks facing global tourism twelve months ago, in particular terrorism, health scares due to avian flu and rising oil prices, 2006 was another year of good growth above the long-term forecast rate of 4.1 per cent, backed up by one of the longest periods of sustained economic expansion,” UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary General Francesco Frangialli said.
Three years ago, world tourism, which can play a key role in fighting poverty and become a primary tool for sustainable development, began a historically new phase of growth, as it broke the barrier of 800 million international arrivals. It has grown more than 20 per cent since then.
The increase in international tourist arrivals is projected to be around 4 per cent for 2007, much in line with the forecast long-term annual growth rate of 4.1 per cent through 2020, according to UNWTO’s World Tourism Barometer. Growth is expected to be more solid as businesses, consumers, governments and international institutions are now better able to anticipate shocks and to respond more effectively to crises.
Africa outpaced all other regions with almost twice the rate of global growth reaching 8.1 per cent in 2006 after an already strong 2005, led by sub-Saharan Africa (up by 9.4 per cent) and North Africa (up 5.8 per cent). Major destinations such as South Africa, Kenya and Morocco all continued to post excellent results.
Asia and the Pacific (up 7.6 per cent) was able to maintain its extraordinary growth level, both due to the recovery of Thailand and the Maldives from the impact of the 2004 tsunami and “remarkable performances” from emerging destinations. International tourist arrivals in South Asia grew by 10 per cent boosted by India, the destination responsible for half the arrivals to the sub-region.
Europe performed on target (up 4 per cent). Germany took advantage of the Football World Cup 2006, while Italy had a strong comeback. Spain’s solid results also contributed to the generally positive outcome.
In the Middle East, international tourist arrivals are estimated to have risen by 4 per cent, after the bumper years of 2004 and 2005, in spite of the overall geopolitical situation, the Israel-Lebanon crisis in particular.
Although the 2 per cent growth in the Americas might seem disappointing, regional results varied considerably. The rise in the United States was not enough to compensate for weak development in Canada and Mexico. On the other hand, results from Central (up 6.1 per cent) and South America (up 7.2 per cent) show how Latin America is on track to consolidate the positive outcome of recent years. Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Paraguay and Peru all grew at double-digit-rates.
As a whole, the global economy is expected to maintain last year’s growth level. Oil prices have shown a tendency to remain less volatile and do not pose the risk to economic stability they did a year ago, UNWTO said.
But some uncertainties remain. Increasing interest rates in some countries and regions could diminish available income. A weaker US dollar might affect foreign travel demand by Americans. On the other hand, a stronger euro could stimulate European international travel.