UNWTO: Growth in international tourist arrivals continues to outpace the economy

International tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) worldwide grew 4% in 2019 to reach 1.5 billion, based on data reported by destinations around the world, says the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. This represents the tenth consecutive year of growth.

According to the first comprehensive report on global tourism numbers and trends of the new decade, 2019 was another year of strong growth, although slower compared to the exceptional rates of 2017 (+6%) and 2018 (+6%). Demand was slower mainly in advanced economies and particularly in Europe.

Uncertainty surrounding Brexit, geopolitical and trade tensions, and the global economic slowdown, weighed on growth. 2019 was also the year of major shifts in the sector with the collapse of Thomas Cook and of several low-cost airlines in Europe.

Nevertheless, all regions saw a rise in international arrivals in 2019. The Middle East (+8%) led growth, followed by Asia and the Pacific (+5%). International arrivals in Europe and Africa (both +4%) increased in line with the world average, while the Americas saw growth of 2%.

The Americas delivered a mixed picture as many island destinations in the Caribbean consolidated their recovery after the 2017 hurricanes while arrivals fell in South America due partly to ongoing social and political turmoil.

The Middle East grew at almost double the global average (+8%), while growth in Asia and the Pacific slowed down but still showed above-average growth, with international arrivals up 5%.

In Europe growth was also slower than in previous years (+4%), but the region continues to lead in terms of international arrivals numbers. Europe welcomed 743 million international tourists last year, which was 51% of the global market.


Tourism spending still strong

Against a backdrop of global economic slowdown, tourism spending continued to grow, most notably among the world’s top ten spenders. France reported the strongest increase in international tourism expenditure among the world’s top ten outbound markets (+11%), while the United States (+6%) led growth in absolute terms, aided by a strong dollar.

Some large emerging markets such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia reported declines in tourism spending. China, the world’s top source market saw outbound trips increase by 14% in the first half of 2019, though expenditure fell 4%.


Tourism delivers opportunities

“The number of destinations earning US$1 billion or more from international tourism has almost doubled since 1998,” says UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili.

This latest evidence of the strength and resilience of the tourism sector comes as the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary. During 2020, through the UN75 initiative, the UN is carrying out the largest, most inclusive conversation on the role of global cooperation in building a better future for all, and tourism will be high on the agenda.