Middle East (+10 percent) and Africa (+7 percent) grew above the world average while Asia and the Pacific and Europe grew at 6 percent. Photo: Pexels.

DURBAN – Middle East (+10 percent) and Africa (+7 percent) grew above the world average while Asia and the Pacific and Europe grew at 6 percent.

2018 totalled 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals (+6 percent), consolidating 2017 strong results and proving to be the second strongest year since 2010; for 2019, UNWTO forecasts a 3 percent to 4 percent increase, in line with the historical growth trend.

International tourist arrivals grew 6 percent in 2018, totalling 1.4 billion according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. UNWTO’s long term forecast issued in 2010 indicated the 1.4 billion mark would be reached in 2020, yet the remarkable growth of international arrivals in recent years has brought it two years ahead.

International tourist arrivals up 6 percent in 2018

UNWTO estimates that worldwide international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) increased 6 percent to 1.4 billion in 2018, clearly above the 3.7 percent% growth registered in the global economy.

In relative terms, the Middle East (+10 percent), Africa (+7 percent), Asia and the Pacific and Europe (both at +6 percent) led growth in 2018. Arrivals to the Americas were below the world average (+3 percent).

“The growth of tourism in recent years confirms that the sector is today one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and development. It is our responsibility to manage it in a sustainable manner and translate this expansion into real benefits for all countries, and particularly, to all local communities, creating opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship and leaving no one behind” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. 

UNWTO’s long-term forecast published in 2010 predicted the 1.4 billion mark of international tourist arrivals for 2020. Yet stronger economic growth, more affordable air travel, technological changes, new businesses models and greater visa facilitation around the world has accelerated growth in recent years.

Growth expected to return to historical trends in 2019

Based on current trends, economic prospects and the UNWTO Confidence Index, UNWTO forecasts international arrivals to grow 3 percent to 4 percent next year, more in line with historic growth trends.

As a general backdrop, the stability of fuel prices tends to translate into affordable air travel while air connectivity continues to improve in many destinations, facilitating the diversification of source markets. Trends also show strong outbound travel from emerging markets, especially India and Russia but also from smaller Asian and Arab source markets.

At the same time, the global economic slowdown, the uncertainty related to the Brexit, as well as geopolitical and trade tensions may prompt a “wait and see” attitude among investors and travellers.

Overall, 2019 is expected to see the consolidation among consumers of emerging trends such as the quest for ‘travel to change and to show’, ‘the pursuit of healthy options’ such as walking, wellness and sports tourism, ‘multigenerational travel’ as a result of demographic changes and more responsible travel.