International tourism on strong start in 2012: UNWTO

International tourist arrivals worldwide grew by 5.7% in the first two months of 2012 according to the May issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.

Demand remained strong in both advanced and emerging economy destinations, despite economic constraints in many of the source markets of Europe and North America.

The first results of 2012 indicate that international tourism continued to show sustained growth in spite of challenging economic conditions. During the first two months of 2012, international tourist arrivals grew by an estimated 5.7% compared to the same period of 2011.Europe sees continued growth

In Europe, up 5%, results were above expectations, boosted by the strong growth in arrivals to Central and Eastern Europe, up 8% as well as to destinations of Northern Europe and Western Europe, both up 6%. Europe’s performance is a continuation of an already solid 2011, when international arrivals increased by 6% overall to over 500 million. Demand has held up surprisingly well in the comparatively mature advanced economy destinations of Northern, Western and parts of Southern and Central Europe, despite continued concerns about the economy.

“These are welcome results for Europe in a moment in which countries are looking for sectors that can deliver on economic growth and job creation,” said Taleb Rifai , UNWTO secretary-general. “We need to work together with tourism administrations to ensure that governments give priority to tourism as part of national policies to stimulate growth and employment.”

Encouraging results across the world

In the first months of 2012, growth was positive in all regions, with the exception of the Middle East, down 1%, where there were nonetheless encouraging signs of recovery, such as in Egypt, up 32% in the first quarter. Southeast Asia and South Asia, both up 10%, led growth by subregion.

Africa was the fastest-growing region with an increase of over 7% in international tourist arrivals thanks to continued growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, up 7% and a clear rebound in North Africa, up 8%, as Tunisia, up 53% in the first quarter, started to recover. Asia and the Pacific saw a 7% increase in tourist arrivals, led by South Asia and Southeast Asia, both 10%. Northeast Asia, up 6%, recorded higher growth as well, with arrivals to Japan up by almost 10% in the first quarter. The Americas also reported significant growth, up 6%, driven by the sustained strong demand in South America, up 8%, and Central America, up 7%.

Worldwide, international tourist arrivals surpassed 131 million in the first two months of 2012, up from 124 million in the same period of 2011.

According to the forecast prepared by UNWTO at the beginning of the year, international tourist arrivals are projected to increase by some 3% to 4% in 2012. For the year as a whole, the number of international tourist arrivals is expected to reach one billion for the first time.