It was another banner year for global travel, according to the UN's World Tourism Organization, which reported a 5 percent growth of international tourist arrivals for the first eight months of 2014.
International tourists (overnight visitors) travelling the world between January and August 2014 reached 781 million, 36 million more than in the same period of 2013. With the 5 percent increase, international tourism continued to grow well above the long-term trend projected by UNWTO for the period 2010-2020. The peak months of June, July and August, which account for about one third of the total of the year, saw an increase of 4 percent compared to the same months of 2013.
By region, the strongest growth was in the Americas, at 8 percent, followed by Asia and the Pacific (+5 percent) and Europe (+4 percent). By subregion, North America (+9 percent) and South Asia (+8 percent) were the star performers, as well as Southern and Mediterranean Europe, Northern Europe, North-East Asia and South America (all +7 percent).
“International tourism continues to grow above expectations despite rising global challenges”, said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai. “Yet, increasing geopolitical uncertainties and the fact that the global economy shows signs of weaker and uneven growth require our attention”, he added.
“Although it is too premature to assess the full impact of the (ebola) outbreak on the tourism sector, at this point we do not expect a major effect on the sector globally," Rifai said. “International tourism in countries where there is widespread transmission (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) represents less than 1 percent of all international arrivals to African destinations. Yet we have to be aware that misperception about the outbreak is affecting the whole of Africa. On the upside, and according to information gathered from our African Member States and key tour operators and associations in major source markets, there are no significant cancellations to report, despite a certain slowdown in bookings”.
Mr. Rifai recalled that the 3rd meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee regarding the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 23 October 2014 “reiterated its recommendation that there should be no general ban on international travel or trade."
“Most importantly, we need to urgently step up international efforts to support affected countries to contain the outbreak, ensure that WHO recommendations are implemented and provide, at all moments, transparent and timely information to fight misperception and fear, and minimize the spillover effects to the whole region”, he added.
For the full year, international tourist arrivals are expected to increase by 4 percent to 4.5 percent, slightly above UNWTO’s long-term forecast of 3.8 percent per year for the period 2010 to 2020.
Although the UNWTO Confidence Index shows some weaker levels due to the current geopolitical and health risks, results remain positive as 51 percent of respondents see prospects for the period September-December 2014 as “much better or better” as against 35 percent who rate it as “equal” and 14% as “much worse or worse”.