MADRID—International tourism will continue growing in 2011 for the second consecutive year, but at a slower pace, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
“International travel is recovering in a very important way and we expect it to increase by between 4% and 5% this year,” UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said during a recent news conference at the organization’s headquarters in Madrid.
Although the figure is lower than the 6.7% increase registered last year, Rifai hailed it as good news, especially compared to the 4% decline in 2009, which he described as “tourism’s worst year in our history.”
Tourism to the Middle East leads the regional forecasts with an expected increase of between 7% and 10%, followed by Asia/Pacific at approximately 8%. Africa and the Americas virtually tied in third place with expected growth of between 4% and 7%.
No world region is expected to match its 2010 arrival figure for tourism, business and other travel. Last year, for example, arrivals in the Middle East were up almost 14% and the Asia/Pacific region enjoyed an increase of 12.6%.
Rifai points to persistent world economic woes as the cause of this year’s predicted slower pace of growth.
Overall economic growth will decelerate this year, he said, with continuing unemployment a major factor affecting tourism, along with increasing government taxation on travel.
“While we fully understand the need for fiscal consolidation, UNWTO will continue to alert governments to the fact that these taxes seriously affect tourism’s proven capacity to stimulate job creation and economic growth,” Rifai said.
The international hotel sector and the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions industry are expected to follow the general trend for 2011, UNWTO Tourism Trends and Marketing Strategies Director John Kester said.
“We’re focusing here on arrival numbers which will, of course, affect hotel stays and the forecast is a pretty good indication of what will happen across the sector, including accommodation, transport, food, etc.,” he said.
Concerning MICE, Kester noted the industry was fairly resilient during the dark days of 2009 and although the UNWTO did not have any specific data for the coming year, “anecdotal indications we’ve seen give us confidence,” he said.
One trend which helped the strong rebound in 2010 was the number of mega events, such as the World Cup in South Africa, the Shanghai Expo, the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and the Commonwealth Games in India.
“This shows the importance of mega events to world tourism arrivals,” Rifai said.
Another positive trend is the growth in receipts from emerging outbound tourism markets in terms of expenditure abroad, with spending by the Chinese up 17%, the Russians registering a 26% increase, Saudi Arabians spending 28% more and expenditure by Brazilians jumping 52%.
“Of the traditional source markets, receipts from Australia increased by 9%, Canada by 8%, Japan by 7% and France rebounded by 4%,” Rifai said. The United States, Germany and Italy registered more modest growth at 2% each.
But expenditure by tourists from Britain, one of Europe’s largest generating markets, was down by 4% in 2010 generally because of the weakness of the pound against the euro.
Over the long term, Rifai said UNWTO predicts a steady rise in tourism arrivals to 1.6 billion by 2020.