International tourism hits record 1.2 billion in 2015, UN reports

Tourists on a ferry boat going across the Nile River, Cairo, Egypt. Photo: World Bank/Kim Eun Yeul

18 January 2016 – International tourism grew by 4.4 per cent last year to a record 1.184 billion as calculated by overnight visitors to international destinations, 50 million more than in 2014, and the sixth consecutive year of above-average growth, UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reported today.

“The robust performance of the sector is contributing to economic growth and job creation in many parts of the world. It is thus critical for countries to promote policies that foster the continued growth of tourism, including travel facilitation, human resources development and sustainability” UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said in a press release.

Results from the UNWTO Confidence Index remain largely positive for 2016, though at a slightly lower level compared to the previous two years, with international tourist arrivals projected to grow by four per cent. Such arrivals have now increased by four per cent or more every year since the post-crisis year of 2010.

By region, growth in 2016 is expected to be stronger in Asia and the Pacific and the Americas by four to five per cent, followed by Europe with 3.5 to 4.5 per cent, and Africa and the Middle East with two to five per cent, though with a larger degree of uncertainty and volatility for the latter two.

In 2015 Europe, the Americas and Asia and the Pacific all recorded around five per cent growth and the Middle East three per cent. In Africa limited data available point to an estimated three per cent decrease, mostly due to weak results in North Africa, which accounts for over one third of arrivals in the region.

Demand was strong overall, though with mixed results across individual destinations due to unusually strong exchange rate fluctuations, the drop in oil prices and other commodities which increased disposable income in importing countries but weakened demand in exporters, as well as increased safety and security concerns.

“2015 results were influenced by exchange rates, oil prices and natural and manmade crises in many parts of the world,” Mr. Rifai said. “As the current environment highlights in a particular manner the issues of safety and security, we should recall that tourism development greatly depends upon our collective capacity to promote safe, secure and seamless travel.

“In this respect, UNWTO urges governments to include tourism administrations in their national security planning, structures and procedures, not only to ensure that the sector’s exposure to threats is minimized but also to maximize the sector’s ability to support security and facilitation, as seamless and safe travel can and should go hand in hand.”

A few leading source markets have driven tourism expenditure in 2015 supported by a strong currency and economy. China, with double-digit growth in expenditure every year since 2004, continues to lead global outbound travel, benefitting Asian destinations such as Japan and Thailand, as well as the United States and various European destinations.

By contrast, expenditure from the previously very dynamic source markets of the Russia and Brazil declined significantly, reflecting the economic constraints and the depreciation of their currencies against virtually all others.

As for the traditional advanced economy source markets, expenditure from the United States, , the world’s second largest source market, at nine per cent growth, and the United Kingdom at six per cent was boosted by a strong currency and rebounding economy.

Spending from Germany, Italy and Australia grew at a slower rate, all at two per cent, while demand from Canada and France was rather weak.

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