Despite lingering economic instability due to the global financial crisis, international tourism increased robustly over the last year with continuing growth expected throughout 2013, the United Nations today announced.
According to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), international tourist arrivals surpassed 1 billion for the first time in history in 2012, up from 996 million in 2011, with demand holding well throughout the year and concluding with a stronger-than-expected fourth quarter.
“2012 saw continued economic volatility around the globe, particularly in the Eurozone, yet international tourism managed to stay on course,” UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai confirmed in a news release.
“The sector has shown its capacity to adjust to the changing market conditions and, although at a slightly more modest rate, is expected to continue expanding in 2013,” he continued.
Looking back at the past year, the UNWTO reported that growth was stronger in emerging economies with tourism arrivals for Asia and the Pacific up seven per cent while Africa and the Americas saw a six and four per cent increase in arrivals, respectively.
Meanwhile, leading the pack in the total number of tourist arrivals for 2012 was Europe, the most visited region in the world, which registered “a very positive result” in view of the economic situation with a total of 535 million tourists.
In a report released yesterday, however, the UNWTO urged European nations to relax their visa restrictions in order to promote a greater circulation of tourists and assist in the region’s economic rebound.
Underscoring the necessity of less stringent visa requirements as well as the facility of an electronic visa system, Mr. Rifai warned yesterday that “an overall restrictive visa policy means lost opportunities for economic growth and jobs, which tourism could bring to destinations.”
“Travellers regard visas as a formality which entails a cost. This can be a deterrent to travel if costs – whether monetary or indirect – including distance, wait times and service, exceed a certain threshold.”
In its latest forecast, the UN agency has predicted tourist arrivals to increase by 3 to 4 per cent in 2013, in line with its expectations as detailed by its Confidence Index, a report compiled from statistical analyses by over 300 international experts.
As a result, Mr. Rifai once again urged Member States to do more in sustaining tourism, adding that financial assistance for the tourism sector would also help in promoting economic recovery for regions hard hit by the recession.
“Tourism is thus one of the pillars that should be supported by governments around the world as part of the solution to stimulating economic growth,” he said.