Tourism climbs despite stock market crisis

The members of the International Panel of
Experts
  that help the World Tourism Organization to publish its Barometer of
trends
  share the opinion that the recent stock market crisis, caused by the
  difficulties of the most risky segment of the US housing market, has
not at
  this stage had an appreciable effect on world tourism demand.

  The crisis of recent weeks has, for the most part, been financial. If
it
  has wiped out the rapid - and perhaps exaggerated - gains made by
certain
  markets since the beginning of the year, it has not, for the time
being at
  least, had a substantial impact on what is sometimes called the
“real
  economy”. Household demand is still buoyed up by objective factors:
the
  sound financial situation of enterprises in the OECD countries and
fuller
  employment in the industrialized countries, including those of the
euro
  zone.

  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) considers that if it were called

  upon to revise downwards its growth forecasts for 2007, it would be to
a
  limited extent. The IMF had already made allowance for the relative
slowdown
  of US growth when, in July, it revised upwards (from 4.9 to 5.2 per
cent)
  its estimate of overall growth for 2007, owing to the good performance
of
  other major economies, such as China, India, and Russia.

  The OECD, for its part, has just revised, on 5 September, its 2007
  projections for the developed economies. This revision, however, is
limited.
  It lowers the growth projection from 2.3 per cent to 2.2 per cent for
the G7
  countries as a whole, from 2.7 per cent to 2.6 per cent for the euro
zone,
  and from 2.1 per cent to 1.9 per cent for the United States. As for
the
  major European generating countries, projections are slightly lower
for
  Germany and France, but higher for the United Kingdom.

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  At this stage, therefore, it appears that the macroeconomic impact of
the
  crisis experienced by the stock markets during the summer should be
limited.

  Besides, if the growth of the economy, and hence the purchasing power
of the
  social groups that account for the bulk of international travel, were
to
  progress more slowly or even, in the later case, to decline slightly,
it is
  by no means obvious that tourism expenditure would be affected
  proportionally. On the contrary, the experience of recent years shows
that
  travel and tourism have become an important sociological phenomenon
and that
  households are, if necessary, prepared to make sacrifices in other
areas of
  consumption or even to dip into their savings rather than forgo their

  holiday travel. Strong economic activity, for its part, serves to
bolster
  business travel.

  Turning specifically to US households, those experiencing difficulties
in
  repaying their large mortgages were not, in any case, the most likely
to
  travel, especially abroad, given their demographic and social
profiles. By
  contrast, the baby boomers, who are now approaching retirement age and
who,
  for the most part, have already bought their homes, do not seem all
that
  concerned about the subprime mortgage problem. They are, in fact, one
of the
  new and important forces behind travel and leisure demand in that
country,
  as well as in western Europe and Japan.

  Broadly speaking, in spite of the trend towards more moderate growth,
the US
  economy remains strong. Average household income and consumption
levels have
  not so far been affected by the crisis. That is why, notwithstanding
the
  trend, until recently, towards a weaker US dollar, especially against
the
  euro, long-haul tourism generated by the US market was up by 5 per
cent in
  2006 (and by 4 per cent to Europe). Provisional figures suggest that
this
  tendency has continued this summer. Moreover, one of the consequences
of the
  recent stock market turbulences has been to encourage the financial
  institutions to seek safer investment options than the housing market
and,
  hence, to transfer part of their assets to US public debt securities,
which
  has led to a slight recovery of the dollar. If this trend were to
persist,
  it would reinforce the predisposition of the US tourist to travel
abroad.

  Just as US demand is proving resilient, the other major generating
  markets are shored up by the strength of their domestic economies. It
should
  be borne in mind that whereas the USA alone accounts for about a
quarter of
  world GDP, the expenditure of US citizens abroad (72 billion dollars
in
  2006) represents only 9.8 per cent of international tourism receipts
(735
  billions in 2006). If 63.7 million US citizens travelled abroad last
year,
  Germany generated 71 million and China 34 million departures, to
mention
  only two countries now experiencing considerable economic expansion.

  Taken together, these elements allow us to conclude, relatively
safely,
  that, given its present form and magnitude, the international
financial
  crisis that began this summer is not impeding the growth of tourism to
any
  measurable extent. It would take a veritable collapse of the “real
economy”,
  brought about by a depreciation of assets, with repercussions for
household
  consumption and leading to both a reduction in liquidity and a loss of

  confidence on the part of economic entities, for international tourism
to be
  truly affected. But we would then have entered a phase in the history
of the
  world economy that would replace the period of growth it has enjoyed
for
  several years.

  In June this year the UNWTO Barometer showed that the sector grew at a

  faster pace in the first four months of the year (6.3 per cent for
arrivals)
  than in 2006 (4.9 per cent for arrivals and 4.5 per cent for
receipts). The
  October edition of the Barometer is likely to confirm this positive
trend.
  It would come as no surprise if the number of international tourist
arrivals
  were to reach or even surpass the 880 million mark in 2007.
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