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Despite rising competition from tourism destinations in Asia and emerging economies, Europe welcomed more than half of all international tourist arrivals in 2012, or 535 million foreign visitors, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

Europe also earned the largest regional share of international tourism receipts, which reached an estimated total of $1075 billion in 2012.

Tourism spending in Europe accounted for 43 percent, or $457 billion, of the 2012 tourism earnings. Last year’s earnings by region are outlined below:

RegionTourism earnings   (US$ billion)Share of Total tourism receipts (%)Growth vs. 2011 receipts (%)
Asia and the Pacific$323306
Middle East$474-2

Although Europe maintains the number one spot, Asia and the Pacific are a close number two.

Year-over-year change in tourism receipts signals this global shift away from Europe and towards Asia. Europe’s tourism receipts increased just 2 percent between 2011 and 2012, the smallest incline after the Middle East’s 2 percent drop, while Asia’s earnings grew 6 percent.

The tourism receipts of individual countries tell a similar story. Five of the ten top tourism earners are European countries with Spain, China, and Italy all in the top five. Only two Asian nations make the list and both are technically part of China.

RankCountryInternational tourism receipts (US$ billion)Growth (%) 2012-2011
1United States128.610.7
6Macao (China)xx
8United Kingdom36.45.2
9Hong Kong31.714.1
10Australia31.5(-) 0.2

Although European countries are still reporting strong tourism receipts, their earnings are growing at a much slower rate than those countries in the Asia and the Pacific region.

Six of the ten fastest growing tourism earners in 2012 are located in Asia and the Pacific and two others are located in Africa. Only Sweden and Finland make the list from Europe.

RankCountryGrowth (%) 2012-2011
4South Africa18.4
9Hong Kong (China)14.1
10Republic of Korea13.6


Tags: tourism, unwto
Photo Credit: The sun sets behind a monument in Alcalá de Henares, a small city near the Spanish capital of Madrid, whose historical centre is one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Sitio do Neto / Flickr