Monday, January 17, 2011

Global tourism bounces back

Global tourism bounced back from the world financial crisis with unexpected vigour last year, surging almost seven per cent compared to 2009, the UN World Tourism Organisation said today.

“Tourism has once again proved to be a highly resilient sector,” UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai said in announcing the results.

“Boosted by improved economic conditions worldwide, international tourism has recovered faster than

expected from the impacts of the global financial crisis and economic recession of late 2008 and 2009,”

the Madrid-based body said in a statement.

It said international tourist arrivals were last year at 935 million, up by 6.7 per cent, or 58 million, compared to 2009 “with positive growth reported in all world regions.”

The figure was higher than the pre-crisis level of 913 million in 2008.

“While all regions posted growth in international tourist arrivals, emerging economies remain the main drivers of this recovery,” it said.

The result “is better than many experts predicted,” Rifai said, adding that the important part of this is that we are finally above the level of 2008. The challenge now is to consolidate this growth, which is not going to be an easy task.

The UNWTO statement said strong performance came “despite persistent economic uncertainty in major markets, the natural disasters suffered in some countries, political and social unrest in others, the serious disruption of air travel following a volcanic eruption in Iceland last April and the problematic weather conditions in parts of Europe and the USA in December.”

But it also noted the “the importance of mega events” on the flow of tourism, including the Shanghai Expo in China, the World Cup in South Africa, the Winter Olympics in Canadaand the Commonwealth Games in India.

Asia was the major driver, with tourism up by 13 per cent at a new record of 204 million arrivals.

“Asia was the first region to recover and the strongest-growing region in 2010,” the UN body said.

In Africa, the only region to show positive results in 2009, tourist arrivals were up by another six per cent in 2010.

Tourism in the Middle East was up by 14 per cent, the Americas eight per cent and Europe three per cent, where the eruption of the volcano in Iceland and the uncertainty affecting the eurozone affected results.

The UNWTO predicted growth will continue in 2011, but at a slower rate of four-to-five per cent, a rate slightly above the long-term average.

“Persistent high unemployment remains a major concern, with the gradual recovery in employment expected for 2011 still too weak to compensate for the jobs lost during the economic crisis,” the statement said.

“A recent tendency towards introducing and increasing taxation on travel as a means of balancing public accounts represents a further challenge to the sector.”

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