European tourism through August beats expectations

International tourist arrivals grew 4.5% in the first eight months of 2011, to a total of 671 million — 29 million more than in the same period of 2010, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Despite ongoing economic uncertainty, Europe posted particularly strong growth in tourist arrivals — 6%. Northern Europe as well as Central and Eastern Europe, which recorded 7% and 8% growth in arrivals, respectively, continued to gain momentum following the declines of 2009. Southern European destinations, which saw an 8% increase in arrivals, also benefited from the shift of travel away from the Middle East and North Africa.

“Despite current volatility, international tourism is proving to be an important economic driver for many European economies, bringing much needed foreign exchange and helping to ease the pressure on their balance of payments,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. “UNWTO encourages European governments to support tourism and consider the sector as one that can back economic recovery given its capacity to distribute wealth and create jobs across the region.”

Asia, Americas, Africa

In Asia, destinations in Southeast Asia and South Asia remained the rising stars, with growth rates of 12% and 13%, respectively, while arrivals slowed in Northeast Asia — partly due to the decline in Japanese outbound tourism — and in Oceania. 

South America, with a 13% growth rate, continues to lead the Americas, UNWTO reported, benefiting from positive economic trends in the region and increased regional integration. Results in North America, Central America and the Caribbean were slightly below average, however, with growth of 3%, 4% and 4%, respectively.

In Africa arrivals were down by 4% as a result of the downturn in North Africa.

Outlook for 2012

UNWTO predicted growth will soften in the remainder of 2011, with international tourist arrivals projected to end the year at between 4% and 4.5% growth, in line with the organization’s forecast at the beginning of the year. For 2012, growth is forecast to be in the range of 3% to 4%.

“A stalled economic recovery and increased financial and fiscal challenges have brought growing uncertainty to the tourism market,” Rifai said. “Nevertheless, the trends of recent months make us confident that though at a slower pace, international tourism will continue to grow in 2012, creating much needed exports and jobs in many economies around the world.”