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Global destinations welcomed 18 million more international travelers between January and April than the same period in 2015, a positive sign for an industry reeling from headlines involving terrorism, disease, and unfavorable currency fluctuations in some regions.
It appears, though, that those headlines haven’t negatively impacted visitor arrivals in some of the world’s most visited destinations, according to global visitor arrivals data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the UNWTO, maintains that the state of the world has never been better than it is in 2016. “Tourism and travel together has proven to be such a resilient industry that nothing is going to stop it,” he told Skift during a visit to the organization’s Madrid offices earlier this week. “It may be halted in certain destinations for a short period of time, but if these destinations are well established in the tradition of receiving people and have the right infrastructure, the right expertise, then in the immediate and long term, it comes back even stronger than it was.”
“There is no stopping this movement of people.”
Europe, for example, had 6.1 percent growth for the first quarter which covers January through March compared to 5.9 percent growth for the first quarter 2015. But Western Europe, which suffered from terrorist attacks in Paris last November and in Brussels in March, had tourism growth that was only 0.1 percent greater than last year. Both Central and Eastern Europe’s growth was nearly two percentage points lower than last year. Northern Europe is the continent’s only region that demonstrated notable growth with 9.3 percent in 2016 versus 4.8 percent last year.
Even with that softening, Europe is still the world’s most visited region and saw 30 million of the 50 million new travelers that traveled internationally in 2015, as well as accounted for more than half of all international travelers (607.6 million). North American arrivals, including those for the U.S., grew by 6.1 percent compared to 5.1 percent for the first quarter 2015.
It’s even better for Asia-Pacific where Southeast Asia’s arrivals grew 10.6 percent and the region’s overall arrivals grew 9.4 percent from 4.2 percent during the first quarter 2015. “They are the more exciting destinations and people are looking for a difference. They’re looking for new experiences. Of course they will always want to feel good about going to well known, established traditional destinations,” Rifai said. “Everybody’s growing, but the growth is going to be more in the developing destinations.”
Headlines about zika virus throughout Latin America have influenced visits to the Caribbean and South America, which are seeing smaller growth than they had in 2015. Central America’s growth, however, had a stronger period than 2015, with 7.3 percent growth over the same time last year.
Africa saw strong, double-digit growth in the Sub-Saharan region with 13.1 percent year over year, which helped the continent stem the slide caused by drops in North Africa. The Middle East is the only region to show overall negative growth, but the UNWTO cautions the data out of the Middle East and Africa is not as complete as other regions.
Despite headlines that perhaps gave travelers reasons to fear making trips the world’s overall tourism growth for the first quarter is better than that of last year — 6.6 percent from 5.5 percent.
Some 348 million people traveled internationally from January to April and UNWTO projects another 500 million will travel through August. In January UNWTO projected that each region’s tourism arrivals will grow between two and 4.5 percent for full-year 2016 which puts Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific on a path to see smaller growth than full-year 2015.
Outlook for International Tourist Arrivals
|Region||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012||2013||2014||2015||Average per Year||Projection 2016|
|World||1.9||-3.9||6.5||4.6||4.7||4.6||4.2||4.6||3.9||3.5 to 4.5|
|Europe||0.3||-3.9||3.1||6.4||3.9||4.8||2.3||4.7||3||3.5 to 4.5|
|Asia and Pacific||1.1||-1.6||13.2||6.2||7.1||6.9||5.7||5.6||6.1||4 to 5|
|Americas||2.7||-4.7||6.3||3.6||4.5||3||8.5||5.9||3.7||4 to 5|
|Africa||2.9||4.5||9.3||-0.7||4.6||4.4||1.1||-3.3||4.4||2 and 5|
|Middle East||20||5.4||13.1||-9.6||2.2||-2.9||6.7||1.7||4.7||2 and 5|