Preliminary results for the first four months of 2006 point to some 236 million international tourist arrivals worldwide, or 10 million more than in the same period of 2005.
This reflects the sustained growth in global tourism demand started in 2004.
These are the findings based on the data gathered by the United Nations specialised agency, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), for January through April 2006, as presented in the latest issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.
Although the rate of growth has slowed slightly, in line with the forecast published in the January issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, 2006 has got off to a good start, with the first four months of the year recording a 4.5% growth in international tourist arrivals worldwide. On a month-by-month basis, growth is estimated at 4% for both January and February, compared with the same months the previous year. March’s total count was 1% down - due to the fact that, in 2005, Easter fell in the month of March but was in April this year - but strong demand over the 2006 Easter period resulted in an 11% rise in April.
Africa and the Middle East (both +11%), as well as Asia and the Pacific (+8%), showed faster than average growth, while Europe and the Americas grew at a more moderate pace - at just under 3%. The first months of 2006 were also marked by the much expected recovery of the destinations tragically hit by the December 2004 tsunami. Arrivals in the Maldives were as much as 97% above the same period last year. Sri Lanka (+25%) also did well, while foreign arrivals in Thailand through Bangkok airport rose by 29% in the first three months of 2006. Indonesia’s recovery, meanwhile, has been unfortunately compromised by the 27 May earthquake that occurred in the vicinity of Indonesia’s second favourite tourism destination, Yogyakarta. Although it has already had an impact on tourism demand, it should not seriously affect traffic to the many other destinations of the large and diverse Indonesian archipelago, such as Bali, Lombok, Sumatra or Jakarta. Recovery will not be easy, nonetheless, and will require support and commitment from the international community - as were so quickly forthcoming after the tsunami tragedy.
Looking back on tumultuous times, 2006’s trends so far confirm that disruptions, while definitely affecting destinations at a local level and over a specific period of time, do not alter global or regional traffic flows. Major factors contributing to the current growth trend include the favourable economic situation in key generating markets, the fact that consumer confidence remains high and, last but not least, the efforts of national administrations to develop and promote tourism.
Prospects for the period May-August 2006
The months of May through August comprise the most important tourism season in leading northern hemisphere destinations, such as Europe and North America. So trends in travel demand over this period often reflect longer-term marketplace trends and experts in most regions are fairly bullish about prospects for the coming four months. This positive outlook is confirmed by the rise in the confidence index of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts. The trend of modestly rising confidence levels already noted in the January Barometer is confirmed, as the rating for prospects has improved for the second consecutive period, up from 132 to 134 (on a scale of 0 to 200, with 100 meaning ‘the same’ and 150 ‘better’).
To quote UNWTO Secretary General, Mr. Francesco Frangialli: “International tourism has now entered a more stable phase of sustained demand without big peaks and troughs. Although the rate of growth is slowing gradually, international tourism is firmly on track to grow at a rate above the long-term average of 4% for the third year in a row now - barring unexpected events, of course.”
“There are currently three major factors that could affect this positive trend. These are terrorism, higher oil prices -especially for aviation fuel-, and of course, the threat of an avian flu outbreak, not to mention others such as worries about the risk of an attack during a trip, the multiplication of security restrictions, stricter visa-issuance rules, restrictive immigration practices and unreasonable proliferation of “travel advisories” issued by governments to deal with it.
In the case of the oil prices, experience and recent UNWTO research on the impact of higher energy prices show that the recent rise and volatility in oil prices have not noticeably influenced tourism demand, at least as far as is demonstrated by the latest data on tourist arrivals and the continued growth of air travel. And, while past oil price peaks did affect tourism negatively through the impact on the economy at large, the global economy has remained steady on this occasion and it is expected to remain strong through 2007. As for the potential avian flu pandemic, if it were to occur it would of course deal mean a severe blow to international tourism -undoubtedly of a greater magnitude than that of the SARS outbreak in 2003. This is why UNWTO, within the UN system, is working with a network of government and industry bodies committed to making travel as safe as possible and to ensuring that the sector is fully prepared for any influenza developments.” added Mr. Frangialli.
Results by region
Arrivals in European destinations are estimated to have increased by 2.5% in the first four months of 2006, albeit with quite varied performances from one destination to another. It is important to note that the ‘Easter effect’ is much more relevant in Europe, and once data for April (which is still missing for some destinations) is available, the picture may still alter. Northern Europe (+8%) is estimated to have posted the highest growth rate. Among the Nordic destinations, Finland (+15% through March) did particularly well, boosted by an exceptionally strong demand from the Russian market, while both Ireland (+8% up to March) and the UK (+8%) sustained the good rates achieved in 2005.
International tourist arrivals in Southern and Mediterranean Europe increased by 5%. Israel (+30%), Croatia (+12%), Serbia and Montenegro
(+10%) and Spain (+6%, Jan-May) were the star performers. Turkey, on the other hand, struggled with concerns over avian flu and slipped by nearly 7%, as did Cyprus (-4%). Italy provided one of the positive notes. After two negative years, it reported a 5% increase over the first three months of 2006. Romania (+12%), though highly affected by the spring floods, has also show very positive results. In the Baltic, Latvia (+30%) and Lithuania (+16% Jan-March) continued to do rather well.
In Western Europe, the best results again came from Germany (+6%) and from Switzerland (+9%). Data on overnights in France (-0.2%, Jan-May), were negative for the first three months of 2006, but were compensated for by the results for April (+19%) and May (+2.4%). In Austria (+1.7%), the celebrations of Mozart’s 250th Anniversary seem to have helped boost tourism demand in April (+45%).
Asia and the Pacific
Growth in Asia and the Pacific was again one of the strongest among world regions (+7.5%). South Asia (+21%) was the most dynamic subregion following the recovery of the destinations hit by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. Much of South Asia’s exceptional performance was also due in no small part to India’s sustained double-digit growth (+15%). Both North and South-East Asia increased much in line with the average of the region. Arrivals climbed by 7% in North-East Asia, with the Chinese territories of Macao
(+21%) and Hong Kong (+12%) leading the way, boosted by the continued liberalisation of travel from mainland China. In South-East Asia, Cambodia (+19%), the Philippines (+13%), Singapore (+15%) and Vietnam (+12% through
May) all maintained last year’s double-digit growth rates. Oceania (-1%) was the only subregion to perform below average as Australia (-0.5%) and New Zealand (+1.4%) ended their high season with rather subdued results due to decreased long-haul arrivals, which seems to have been affected by higher fuel prices.
In the Americas (+2.7%), growth was below average, a result much influenced by the performance of North America. Results for destinations in North America (-0.4%) were well under this average due to the continued poor performance of Canada (-4%), struggling with an extraordinarily strong Canadian dollar, and the foreseen drop of Mexico (-2%), still recovering from the damage brought by Hurricane Wilma, which hit the Yucatan Peninsula last October. However, there are encouraging signs in Mexico as April was the first month to show positive growth in terms of international arrivals since November 2005. Arrivals in the USA more or less stagnated (+0.5% through March), but it is important to note that these results do not include April data, which will surely show the positive impact of the Easter holidays.
By contrast, all other American subregions reported an above average performance. In the Caribbean (+7%), major destinations such as the Dominican Republic (+12%) and Jamaica (+16%) posted double-digit growth rates. Meanwhile, while Central America (+11%) has sustained its impressive double-digit growth level achieved in 2004 and 2005, South America’s growth
(+8%) appears to have slowed slightly, in spite of the fact that many destinations like Paraguay (+23%), Peru (+16% through March), Colombia
(+15%) and Argentina (+12% for quarter one) ended the first months of 2006 with double-digit increases.
Africa and the Middle East
Africa and the Middle East again led the way in terms of growth in 2006 as they did in 2005, with an estimated increase of around 11% each. In Africa, growth was stronger in Sub-Saharan Africa (+12%) with particularly remarkable results for Kenya (+14% between January and March) and the Seychelles (+11% Jan-May). In North Africa (+9%), results were somewhat mixed, with Tunisia recording an increase of 3% between January and April while Morocco posted an encouraging 17% growth for the same period.
In the Middle East (+11%), Egypt’s 3% increase through May can be considered very positive overall. The country has suffered more than its fair share of difficulties in the past few years, but has proved to be well experienced at restoring confidence. Lebanon (+49%) and Bahrain (+30%) report the highest growth rates in the region so far this year, while the United Arab Emirate of Dubai (+7%) and Jordan (+5%) grew at healthy but more moderate rates. Available data, however, is rather limited for both Africa and the Middle East, so the picture could still change.