Worldwide tourism results for 2005 show a continuation of the overall positive trend of 2004, with international tourist arrivals growing on average by eight per cent in the first four months, according to the recently released June edition of the WTO World Tourism Barometer. Although the excellent pace of growth of 2004 was expected to slow down gradually, for the moment rates are very similar to those seen in the second half of 2004, a year in which international tourist arrivals grew by more than 10% to an all-time record of 763 million.
The first few months thus indicate that 2005 is shaping up as a year of continued recovery from the various shocks felt in the 2001-2003 period. Pent-up demand continues to be released as consumer confidence is on the upswing again and the fear factor has faded. A factor that should not be overlooked in this recovery is the stimulating effect of “tempting” offers made available by online travel services including low-cost airlines. WTO Chief of Market Intelligence and Promotion, Mr. Augusto Huéscar comments: “the geopolitical climate, the persistent weak economy and SARS have constrained tourism seriously in previous years and have left a significant amount of pent-up demand in the market. From last year on, we have seen this being released and the data indicate that this process is still in full swing. People are regaining the lust for travel and feel that the moment is appropriate to make the trips they postponed in the past years.”
Positive results in every world region
Positive results are estimated over the first four months of 2005 for all regions, ranging from 5% for Europe to 17% for the Middle East. Growth rates registered in the second half of 2004 are being very well maintained in 2005.The current pace of growth is inevitably slower than that recorded over the full year of 2004, as this was a very atypical year. As a consequence of the post-SARS and Iraq invasion correction on the depressed 2003 results, the growth rate of the first half of 2004 was exceptional, in particular in the case of Asia and the Pacific and the Middle East.
2005 results were particularly strong in the Middle East (+17%), in Africa (+12%) and in the Americas (+11%). Africa was the only region to exceed the trend of 2004. Due to the improvement of results in the Sub-Saharan part of the region, overall results for the first four months are some four points up on last year. Africa also received the highest scores for the upcoming period by the WTO Panel of Tourism Experts, followed by the Middle East and the Americas. 2005 results also show that the Americas has continued the strong recovery that began in early 2004, with international tourist arrivals increasing by 11% in the first four months of the year. Asia and the Pacific grew by almost 9% after the excellent results in 2004 (+28%) with overall figures only marginally affected by the tsunami disaster (a Tsunami Impact Update is available in the full version of the June WTO World Tourism Barometer), whereas Europe (+5%), which weathered the 2001-2003 downturn rather well, maintained last year’s positive trend.
Growth in all four months
For January 2005 growth of worldwide international tourist arrivals is estimated at 9% compared to the same month of the previous year. In February, arrivals increased by 4%, but it should be taken into account that 2004 was a leap year and February had one day more, representing some 3% to 4% of the monthly total. In March, arrivals jumped by 15% boosted by the fact that the Easter holidays fell in March this year and not in April as in 2004. By the same token, this skewed down the April results, which, however, were still positive at 3%. For the four-month period January-April 2005 as a whole, growth amounted to close to 8 per cent. This figure is in line with the forecast issued in the January issue of the WTO World Tourism Barometer of a 5 to 8% increase for the full year 2005.
Upbeat prospects for the high season
Prospects for the forthcoming high season in the northern hemisphere are positive overall, as no major constraints are present and the economic scenario is on the whole favourable. According to Mr Huéscar “major source markets and destinations are gearing up for the busiest months of the year and no drastic changes are expected in the current momentum”. There is still a significant amount of pending demand, in particular concerning long-haul traffic. Short-term prospects are particularly positive regarding travel out of Europe due to the still strong euro. In addition, with more and more intraregional destinations served by low-cost airlines, tour operators are moving to more exotic medium- and long-haul destinations. However, independent travel continues to develop faster than conventional package travel fuelled by increased capacity from low-cost airlines and growing online availability of well-priced accommodation. Outbound tourism from the Americas is expected to maintain its strength, as the United States only recently started to recover from the severe drop it suffered in the period 2001-2003. In 2004, the number of US citizens travelling by air to overseas regions, Canada and Mexico increased by 14%. However, they are only slowly returning to Europe and are expected to continue being more attracted to destinations within their own region or in Asia and the Pacific, where the impact of the weak US dollar is less significant. Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East and Africa are expected to continue to post strong results, both from outside the region and from intraregional source markets.