Last updated: 04:33 PM ET, Fri September 30 2016

International Tourism Approaches Record Levels: What Can We Learn?

Destination & Tourism | Michael Schottey | September 29, 2016

International Tourism Approaches Record Levels: What Can We Learn?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock.  

Throughout the world, international tourist arrivals grew four percent the first half of 2016, and that number could grow even more for the second half of the year which would make 2016 the biggest tourism year on record.

The impressive numbers are courtesy of a new report published by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a specialized agency as part of the United Nations which not only tracks, but is also responsible for promoting the development of, responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

According to the report, globally, destinations received 561 million total overnight visitors, which was 21 million more than last year. Typically, the second half of the year accounts for 54 percent of the total year’s tourism numbers, so that four percent year-over-year growth is expected to either hold steady or even increase by the end of the year.

In a press release surrounding the study, UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai pointed out not only the economic advantages to strong tourism numbers, but the socioeconomic and social benefits as well:

“Tourism has proven to be one of the most resilient economic sectors worldwide,” Rifai said. “It is creating jobs for millions, at a time when providing perspectives for a better future to people of all regions is one of our biggest challenges. But tourism is also creating bonds among people of all nations and backgrounds, bringing down stereotypes and fighting fear and distrust.”

Those benefits do not come without responsibilities, however.

“Safety and security are key pillars of tourism development,” Rifai continued, “and we need to strengthen our common action to build a safe, secure and seamless travel framework. This is no time to build walls or point fingers; it is time to build an alliance based on a shared vision and a joint responsibility.”

We’ll leave it up to the reader’s imagination what (or who) “build walls” and “point fingers” might allude to, but it’s worthwhile to mention that these positive numbers are driven by strong numbers from outbound United States tourism numbers (up eight percent thanks to a strong dollar) and a trend toward isolationism or a weakening of the U.S. economy could send those numbers downward in a hurry.

China remained the largest outbound tourism market and increased its lead with a staggering 20 percent growth.

Where are all those visitors visiting?

Asia and the Pacific region led the way with tourism numbers rising nine percent in the first half of 2016 while North America sat at four percent growth and both Europe and Latin America at three percent. This all offset strong declines (nine percent) on average in the Middle East. 


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