Global tourism growth expected to continue
20 JANUARY 2016 7:23 AM
The UNWTO said global tourism should continue its growth this year, but the threat of terrorism could keep some would-be travelers home.
MADRID—Global tourism is expected to remain buoyant in 2016 following another record last year. However, the threat of terrorism could keep fearful travelers at home and force governments to impose restrictions on foreign visitors, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
“We see the number of international overnight visitors growing this year by an average of 4%, which would make it the seventh consecutive year of growth,” UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said during a news conference this week at the organization’s Madrid headquarters.
By region, growth will be strongest in Asia/Pacific and the Americas, both up 4% to 5%, followed closely by Europe at between 3.5% and 4.5%.
Projections for Africa and the Middle East, each with an expected visitor increase of between 2% and 5%, are positive but tempered with a degree of volatility and uncertainty, according to the UNWTO forecast.
Last year, international tourism arrivals hit almost 1.2 billion—which was 50 million more than in 2014—for a global increase of 4.4%, with numbers influenced by fluctuations in exchange rate and the price of oil and other commodities, which boosted disposable incomes in some countries but weakened demand in others.
“Security, safety and crisis issues also had an effect in 2015, not only terrorism but also health issues and natural disasters,” Rifai said.
Growth in 2015
Europe, Asia/Pacific and the Americas all enjoyed 5% growth in 2015. Europe saw 29 million more arrivals in 2015, helped by a weaker euro compared to the U.S. dollar and other major currencies.
International tourist arrivals rose by 13 million to 277 million in the Asia/Pacific, with uneven results across destinations. In the Americas, arrivals increased 9 million to reach 191 million with the appreciation in the U.S. currency fueling outbound travel from the United States to the Caribbean and Central America.
Tourism to the Middle East was up 3% to 54 million visitors, consolidating the recovery that began in 2014, while Africa suffered a 3% decrease to 53 million visitors. Arrivals to North Africa were off by 8% and in Sub-Saharan countries by 1%.
Regarding outbound markets in 2015, the Chinese led the world in international tourism expenditure, which reached $200 billion thanks to a strong currency and economy, benefitting nearby destinations such as Thailand and Japan, along with the United States and some European nations.
Behind China were: the United States, the world’s second-largest source market, with expenditure rising 9%; followed by the United Kingdom, up 6%; and Germany, Italy and Australia posting expenditure gains of 2% each.
But spending was down significantly by the Russians and Brazilians as their economies took a hit with the ruble and the real losing value against most other currencies.
John Kester, director of UNWTO’s tourism trends and marketing strategies, said travel experts around the world polled by the organization have indicated that the hotel sector should benefit from the general increase in international travel.
“In those countries where tourism is not doing well, of course the hotels will feel the effects, but from what I’ve seen the hotel pipeline is expanding at a healthy pace,” Kester said.
Threats to tourism
Rifai warned that terrorist attacks on tourists, such as the recent events in Istanbul, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Tunisia, could curtail international arrivals and hinder the recent move among many destinations toward more open borders.
“We are seeing more and more incidents in which tourists are targeted by terrorists tempted by the sector’s importance to a country’s economic health, but we can’t let them win that battle,” Rifai said.
“And our major concern is that some countries may react negatively and impose travel restrictions on incoming visitors,” he said. “Of course, security and safety must be addressed but let’s not overdo it.”
The secretary-general cited as one example the calls from some in Europe to rethink the so-called “Schengen Agreement,” which eliminates passport and immigration controls among 26 European nations.
“If governments decide to restrict travel, this allows the terrorists to set the agenda, and we can’t have that,” Rifai said. “Terrorist attacks strike directly at our human desire to experience new places.”
Fortunately, he added, most terrorist actions have a short-term impact on visitor arrivals and numbers bounce back fairly quickly.
Rifai also addressed the growing worry that the continued increase in tourist numbers could endanger the sustainability of some of the more popular destinations.
“Growth versus sustainability is not a zero-sum game,” he said. “If one rises, the other should not be harmed. More growth means more income and that can, in fact, help support sustainability.
“I was recently at a very popular site in India where there is a lovely hotel housed in a former royal palace. If there were not tourists to stay in that hotel, it would now be a ruin.”