International tourist arrivals reached 1.5 billion in 2019, a +4% rise year-on-year, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. The organisation is forecasting a rise of +3% to +4% for 2020, which it said confirms tourism “as a leading and resilient economic sector, especially in view of current uncertainties”.
All regions saw a rise in international arrivals in 2019, which represented the tenth consecutive year of growth. However, uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the collapse of Thomas Cook, geopolitical and social tensions and the global economic slowdown all contributed to slower growth in the year, compared to the “exceptional rates” of 2017 and 2018. This slowdown affected mainly advanced economies and particularly Europe and Asia and the Pacific.
The latest UNWTO Confidence Index shows a cautious optimism about the year ahead: 47% of participants believe tourism will perform better and 43% at the same level of 2019. Major sporting events, including the Tokyo Olympics, and cultural events such as Expo 2020 Dubai are expected to have a positive impact on the sector.
The Middle East was the fastest-growing region for international tourism arrivals in 2019, growing at almost double the global average (+8%). Growth in Asia and the Pacific slowed but still showed above-average growth, with international arrivals up +5%.
Europe, where growth was also slower than in previous years (+4%) continues to lead in terms of arrivals numbers, welcoming 743 million international tourists last year (51% of the global market).
The Americas (+2%) showed a mixed picture as many island destinations in the Caribbean consolidated their recovery after the 2017 hurricanes while arrivals fell in South America due partly to social and political turmoil.
Limited data available for Africa (+4%) points to continued strong results in North Africa (+9%) while arrivals in Sub-Saharan Africa grew slower in 2019 (+1.5%), said UNWTO.
Against a backdrop of global economic slowdown, tourism spending continued to grow, most notably among the world’s top ten spenders. France reported the strongest increase in international tourism expenditure among the world’s top ten outbound markets (+11%), while the US (+6%) led growth in absolute terms, aided by a strong dollar.
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili stressed that “in these times of uncertainty and volatility, tourism remains a reliable economic sector”. Against the backdrop of recently downgraded global economic perspectives, international trade tensions, social unrest and geopolitical uncertainty, “our sector keeps outpacing the world economy and calling upon us to not only grow but to grow better”, he added.