International tourist arrivals jumped to a record 760 million last year, a 10 per cent increase over 2003 and the best growth rate of the past 20 years, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO) said today.
"We are confident that the tourism sector is back on the right track after three difficult years and, though still in commotion over the tragic events in Asia, the tourism sector will surely show again its extraordinary resilience and its ability to overcome difficulties by making an important contribution to the quick recovery of the affected countries," WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli said in Phuket, Thailand, a tourist destination that was devastated by the 26 December tsunami.
"The recovery of the world economy, and in particular of the economies of important American and European generating markets, strongly contributed to the very good results obtained in 2004," the WTO said.
Fears that oil prices would have a negative impact on consumer travel decreased over the year when it turned out that increased costs were being absorbed by the dynamism of the world economy and seemed not to have affected consumer confidence, it said.
The increase varied from region to region, ranging from 4 per cent for Europe, to 7 per cent for Africa, including the North African sub-region; 10 per cent for the Americas and 29 per cent for Asia and the Pacific as the area rebounded from the blow of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the WTO said. The growth rate for the Middle East, which included Egypt, was 21 per cent.
The outstanding results for Asia and the Pacific were the backdrop for the "Phuket Action Plan," which identified tourism destinations in tsunami-affected Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand and Indonesia for particular assistance.
"Our aim is to ensure that the tourism sector in these four countries emerges from this disaster stronger and more resilient than before, with more environmentally friendly systems, more civil society involvement in the tourism industry and more revenues from tourism remaining in the local community," according to the Plan.