International tourist arrivals grew by a remarkable seven per cent in 2017 to reach a total of 1,322 million, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.
This strong momentum is expected to continue in 2018 at a rate of four to five per cent.
Based on data reported by destinations around the world, it is estimated that international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) worldwide increased seven per cent last year.
This is well above the sustained and consistent trend of four per cent or higher growth since 2010 and represents the strongest results in seven years.
Led by Mediterranean destinations, Europe recorded extraordinary results for such a large and rather mature region, with eight per cent more international arrivals than in 2016.
Africa consolidated its 2016 rebound with an eight per cent increase.
Asia and the Pacific recorded six per cent growth, the Middle East five per cent and the Americas three per cent.
Last year was characterised by sustained growth in many destinations and a firm recovery in those that suffered decreases in previous years.
Results were partly shaped by the global economic upswing and the robust outbound demand from many traditional and emerging source markets, particularly a rebound in tourism spending from Brazil and the Russian Federation after a few years of declines.
“International travel continues to grow strongly, consolidating the tourism sector as a key driver in economic development.
“As the third export sector in the world, tourism is essential for job creation and the prosperity of communities around the world,” said UNWTO secretary general Zurab Pololikashvili.
“Yet as we continue to grow we must work closer together to ensure this growth benefits every member of every host community, and is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals”.
Growth expected to continue in 2018
The current strong momentum is expected to continue in 2018, though at a more sustainable pace after eight years of steady expansion following the 2009 economic and financial crisis.
Based on current trends, economic prospects and the outlook by a UNWTO panel of experts, the organisation projects international tourist arrivals worldwide to grow at a rate of between four and five per cent this year.
This is somewhat above the 3.8 per cent average increase projected for the period 2010-2020 by UNWTO in its Tourism Towards 2030 long-term forecast.
Europe and the Americas are both expected to grow by 3.5 to 4.5 per cent, Asia and the Pacific by five to six per cent, Africa by five to seven per cent and the Middle East by four to six per cent
Results by UNWTO region
International tourist arrivals in Europe reached 671 million in 2017, a remarkable eight per cent increase following a comparatively weaker 2016.
Growth was driven by the extraordinary results in southern and Mediterranean Europe, where figures were up 13 per cent.
Western Europe, up seven per cent, northern Europe and central & eastern Europe (both up five per cent) also recorded robust growth.
Asia and the Pacific (up six per cent) recorded 324 million international tourist arrivals in 2017.
Arrivals in south Asia grew ten per cent, in south-east Asia by eight per cent, and in Oceania by seven per cent.
Arrivals to north-east Asia increased by three per cent.
The Americas (up three per cent) welcomed 207 million international tourist arrivals in 2017, with most destinations enjoying positive results.
South America, which saw figures increase by seven per cent, led growth, followed by Central America and the Caribbean (both up four per cent), with the latter showing clear signs of recovery in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
In North America (up two per cent), robust results in Mexico and Canada contrasted with a decrease in the United States, the region’s largest destination.
The decline in the latter has been referred to as the ‘Trump Slump’, attributed in part to the unpopularity of the current American president.
Based on available data for Africa, growth in 2017 is estimated at eight per cent.
The region consolidated its 2016 rebound and reached a record 62 million international arrivals.
North Africa enjoyed a strong recovery, with arrivals growing by 13 per cent, while in sub-Saharan Africa arrivals increased by five per cent.
The Middle East, up five per cent, received 58 million international tourist arrivals in 2017 with sustained growth in some destinations and a strong recovery in others.
All results in this release are based on preliminary data, as reported by the various destinations around the world, and on estimates by UNWTO of still-missing data.
UNWTO will continue to collect data and will present more comprehensive data by country in the April issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.
Results for both Africa and the Middle East should be read with caution as they are based on limited available data.
More comprehensive figures are available in the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.