Global tourism up 4%, led by South America

WORLDWIDE International tourist arrivals grew 4% during the first two months of 2011, consolidating the 7% rebound registered in 2010.

According to the UNWTO, growth was positive in all world subregions during January and February, with the exception of the Middle East and North Africa. South America and South Asia each posted 15% growth, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (13%) and Central and Eastern Europe (12%).

Worldwide, international tourist arrivals surpassed 124 million in the first two months of 2011, up from 119 million in the same period of 2010, with emerging economies continuing to grow at a faster pace than advanced ones, 6% compared to 4%.

Asia Pacific, the region with one of the fastest growth rates in 2010, saw its pace of growth slow to 6%. Results were better than expected for Europe (up 6%), boosted by the recovery of Central and Eastern Europe and the redistribution of travel to destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe due to developments in North Africa and the Middle East, which were down 9% and 10%, respectively. The Americas (up 5%) was in line with the world average, with strong results for South America and the Caribbean, but rather weaker growth in North and Central America.

“These results confirm that in spite of several challenges, the recovery of international tourism which was remarkably strong last year is consolidating,” says UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. “News is especially positive for emerging economies and developing countries, particularly for Africa, where tourism is increasingly recognized as a driver of development, exports and jobs.”

According to the forecast prepared by UNWTO at the beginning of the year, international tourist arrivals are projected to increase by 4% to 5% in 2011. The impact of recent developments in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as the tragic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March, are not expected to substantially affect this projected growth.

Results for Northeast Asia, North Africa and the Middle East are below initial forecasts, but destinations in Europe and South America are so far performing better than anticipated. On the whole, and as in previous similar situations, a temporary redistribution of traffic, together with an increase in intraregional travel as opposed to interregional, is likely to occur.

“Although recent developments in North Africa and the Middle East and the terrible events in Japan will affect the results of their respective regions, overall growth in international tourism should not be significantly impacted,” Rifai says. “Moreover, the fall in demand in Tunisia, Egypt and Japan is expected to have bottomed out, and the recovery of these important destinations will surely be consolidated during the year.”