by Mia Taylor
Last updated: 12:40 AM ET, Tue January 22, 2019
International tourist arrivals are growing at a remarkable pace, reaching 1.4 billion a full two years ahead of projections.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization had projected in 2010 that the 1.4 billion mark would not be achieved until about 2020.
However, in 2018, worldwide international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) grew six percent, allowing that benchmark to be reached far earlier, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.
The industry's remarkable growth also puts it above the 3.7 percent growth registered in the global economy, said the new UNWTO report.
Regions leading the tourism growth include the Middle East, up 10 percent, Africa, up seven percent, and the Pacific and Europe, both up six percent. Arrivals to the Americas were below the world average, with an increase of about three percent.
"The growth of tourism in recent years confirms that the sector is today one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and development," UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said in a statement. "It is our responsibility to manage it in a sustainable manner and translate this expansion into real benefits for all countries, and particularly, to all local communities, creating opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship and leaving no one behind"
With such sentiments in mind, Pololikashvili said the UNWTO is focusing 2019 on education, skills and job creation.
The UNWTO attributed the rapid growth of international tourist arrivals to stronger economic growth, more affordable air travel, technological changes, new businesses models and greater visa facilitation around the world.
Results by Region
International tourist arrivals in Europe reached 713 million in 2018, a notable six percent increase over an exceptionally strong 2017.
Growth was driven by Southern and Mediterranean Europe, both of which saw a seven percent increase in arrivals. Central and Eastern Europe were up six percent, and Western Europe had a six percent increase.
Results in Northern Europe were flat due to the weakness of arrivals to the United Kingdom, said the UNWTO.
Asia and the Pacific recorded 343 million international tourist arrivals in 2018, an increase of six percent. Arrivals in South-East Asia grew seven percent, followed by North-East Asia, up six percent and South Asia, up five percent. Oceania showed more moderate growth, an increase of three percent.
The Americas welcomed 217 million international arrivals in 2018, with mixed results across destinations.
Growth was led by North America, which notched a four percent increase, followed by South America at three percent. Central America and the Caribbean both saw a two percent decrease in international tourist arrivals last year, reflecting the impact of the September 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Data from Africa meanwhile points to a seven percent increase in 2018, with North Africa faring even better, recording a 10 percent increase and Sub-Saharan Africa at six percent, reaching an estimated 67 million arrivals.
The Middle East showed solid results last year consolidating its 2017 recovery, with international tourist arrivals reaching 64 million, which was an increase of 10 percent.
Based on current trends, economic prospects and the UNWTO Confidence Index, UNWTO forecasts international arrivals will continue to grow between three and four percent next year, which would be more in line with historic growth trends.
The report also noted that such factors as the global economic slowdown, uncertainty related to the Brexit, and geopolitical and trade tensions may prompt a "wait and see" attitude among investors and travelers.
"Overall, 2019 is expected to see the consolidation among consumers of emerging trends such as the quest for 'travel to change and to show', 'the pursuit of healthy options' such as walking, wellness, and sports tourism, 'multigenerational travel' as a result of demographic changes and more responsible travel," said the report.
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