Africa and Asia lead global tourism recovery

International tourism is steadily rebounding from an extremely challenging 2009, led by Africa and Asia, according to the latest figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

In its April World Tourism Barometer Update, the UNWTO outlines a growth in international tourist arrivals of 7 percent during the first two months of 2010. It follows a 2 percent increase recorded during the last quarter of 2009, which followed 14 consecutive months of negative results.

The regions that experienced the strongest growth were Asia and the Pacific, up 10 percent, and Africa,  up 7 percent. Europe and the Americas recorded rises of 3 percent each.

UNWTO also forecasts a 3-4 percent growth in international tourist arrivals in 2010. This estimate has remained unchanged despite the recent closure of the European airspace due to the ash cloud crisis.

UNWTO said in a statement: “Though there is a clear improvement on the negative results of 2009, this growth must be considered with caution as it compares with a particularly weak period of 2009 – the worst months of the global economic crisis.”

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International tourist arrivals in the first two months of 2010 totalled 119 million – up 7 percent, they are still 2 percent below the value of the record year 2008.

UNWTO estimates that, although the widespread closure of airspace in northern Europe due to ash cloud, it “might have caused a loss of less than half a percent of the yearly volume of international tourist arrivals in Europe and 0.3 percent of the total count for the world.”

UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said: “Although economic results have improved significantly in recent months with a positive impact on tourism demand, we must remain cautious as many factors can still jeopardise the pace of recovery.”

He added: “The economic recovery is being driven mainly by emerging economies, while growth is still sluggish in most advanced ones. At the same time, increasing unemployment levels in major tourism source markets is a cause of concern.”

International tourism receipts fell to US$852 billion worldwide (€611 billion) in 2009, down from US$942 billion (€641 billion) in 2008. In real terms, international tourism receipts declined by 6 percent, which was more than the 4 percent fall in arrivals.