Skift Take

Tourism is still growing globally, but the forward outlook is a little more cautious than in previous years of unbounded optimism. Geopolitical and economic challenges aren't hard to find — and they're going to affect tourism.

For the 10th consecutive year, international tourism arrivals grew in 2019, reaching 1.5 billion, according to the UN World Travel Organization’s Barometer report released Monday.

The 4 percent year-on-year growth rate will be welcome news for the industry, which takes heart in the idea that travel is a resilient force for economic good in the world — even as geopolitical, climatic, and economic headwinds seem to get stronger with each passing quarter. However, there are some cracks beginning to show. After “exceptional” growth rates in 2017 (7 percent) and 2018 (6 percent), growth slowed slightly overall.

The slowdown in demand was most pronounced in advanced economies in Europe, which grew 4 percent as a region compared to last year’s 6 percent. As the report noted, “uncertainty surrounding Brexit, geopolitical and trade tensions, and the global economic slowdown, weighed on growth. 2019 was also the year of major shifts in the sector with the collapse of Thomas Cook and of several low-cost airlines in Europe.” That said, Europe still captured 51 percent of the international tourism market, with 743 million tourist arrivals in 2019

While the report noted that economic growth is expected to be a slight upward trend in 2020, uncertainty still reigns. The report said this was particularly true in light of projected slowdowns in China and the U.S., noting “a much more subdued pace of global activity could well materialize.”

The Americas saw the lowest growth rate of 2 percent, a repeat of 2018. This reflects a mixed bag of factors: the Caribbean’s state of perma-recovery after multiple extreme weather events, where growth rebounded to 5 percent; political turmoil in South America, where growth slumped to -3 percent; and and United States’ noted loss of international market share. North America’s growth slowed from 4 to 3 percent.

The Middle East and Asia Pacific led in terms of growth, with 8 percent and 5 percent respectively. Events in 2020 including the Tokyo Olympics and Dubai Expo 2020 are expected to drive demand to that region over the next year.

UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili said “in these times of uncertainty and volatility, tourism remains a reliable economic sector,” adding “our sector keeps outpacing the world economy and calling upon us to not only grow but to grow better.”

The UNWTO’s confidence index seemed to reflect some prudence looking ahead at 2020: 47 percent of the panel’s experts predicted better performance in 2020, with 43 percent expecting parity. A best case scenario laid out that “the Brexit transition, the first phase of the US-China trade deal, and the gradual improvement of the social environment, could give more clearer signs to the economy as tensions unwind.”

Overall, a growth rate of 3 to 4 percent is forecast for 2020.


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Tags: global tourism, tourism, travel, unwto

Photo credit: Tourists at the Chateau de Versailles in France. Joan Brebo / Flickr

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