Another solid year of international tourism growth is in the books. But if the global economy hits the skids in 2016, expect international leisure travel to experience tapping of the brakes.
International tourism continued to grow robustly in 2015, marking six straight years of solid growth buoyed by macroeconomic trends and increased travel from countries like the U.S. and China.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) released its annual data on international tourism arrivals, finding that more than 1.18 billion people traveled internationally last year. This is an increase of 256 million since the nadir of the global recession in 2009, and an increase of 50 million over 2014.
International tourism grew 4.4 percent in 2015. But looking ahead, the organization forecasts four percent growth in 2016, which would be the lowest growth rate since 2009.
Confidence is down, too; the UNWTO panel of tourism is slightly less bullish on international tourism growth this year.
“2015 results were influenced by exchange rates, oil prices and natural and manmade crises in many parts of the world,” said UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai. “As the current environment highlights in a particular manner the issues of safety and security, we should recall that tourism development greatly depends upon our collective capacity to promote safe, secure and seamless travel.”
The Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific were the leading regions for international tourism arrivals, seeing an increase of five percent year-over-year. Europe, however, still has a commanding lead in total number of visitors, which reached 609 million.
The strength of the dollar, and dollar-pegged Chinese yuan, contributed to the boost in visitors to Europe.
The Middle East, however, showed weak growth in 2015, while Africa experienced negative tourism growth, probably the result of decreased travel following last year’s Ebola outbreak.
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Photo credit: Chinese tourists visiting Penang, Malaysia, in 2013. shankar s. / Skift