UN: Global tourism growth slowed in 2019

Tourists take a selfie in front of the southern stone facade of the ruins of St Paul’s Church, a 17th-century Portuguese complex in Santo Antonio, in Macau February 2, 2018. — AFP pic
Tourists take a selfie in front of the southern stone facade of the ruins of St Paul’s Church, a 17th-century Portuguese complex in Santo Antonio, in Macau February 2, 2018. — AFP pic

MADRID, Jan 21 — Global tourism slowed in 2019 due to a cooling world economy, especially in Europe and Asia where uncertainties linked to Brexit and protests in Hong Kong also weighed, the United Nation’s tourism agency said yesterday. 

The number of international tourist arrivals rose by 4.0 per cent last year to 1.5 billion, its slowest rate since 2016, the Madrid-based World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said in a statement.

“This is a growth that we can consider strong because it is within the historical average, but we see a slight slowdown compared to the last two years. But it should be noted that the last two years have been really exceptional with a growth that was not normal,” the body’s intelligence chief, Sandra Carvao, told a news conference.

Tourist numbers grew by 6.0 per cent in 2018 and by 7.0 per cent in 2017 as holidaymakers returned to sunshine destinations in the eastern Mediterranean such as Turkey and Egypt after several years of tourists staying away due to security concerns. Tourism numbers rose by 4.0 per cent in 2016.

The UNWTO predicted global tourism will grow by 3.0-4.0 per cent this year, buoyed by major sporting and cultural events such as the Tokyo Olympics in Japan.

An economic slowdown in many key issuing markets such as Germany and the collapse of Thomas Cook, the world’s oldest travel form, had contributed to the slowdown in the sector last year, Carvao said.

Britain’s looming departure from the European Union had generated “strong uncertainty” and “has impacted its economy, which has impacted the value of its currency” leading to fewer British nationals going abroad on holidays, she added.

Tourist arrivals in Europe rose by 4.0 per cent in 2019, down from 6.0 per cent in the previous year. 

It remained the most visited region in the world, accounting for 51 per cent of all international tourist arrivals last year, or 743 million people.

Arrivals in the Asia-Pacific region rose by 5.0 per cent compared to 7.0 per cent in 2018 as Hong Kong was rocked by sometimes violent political protests which caused hotel occupancy rates to slump in the Chinese-ruled city.

Middle East jump

Africa posted a 4.0-per cent rise in tourist arrivals, down from 9.0 per cent in 2018.

“The Americas showed 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 UN body’s statement said.

The Middle East was the one bright spot as tourist arrivals in the region jumped by 8.0 per cent in 2019, up from 3.0 per cent in the previous year, due mainly to Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plan to draw foreign visitors and the recovery of the Egyptian market.

UNWTO expects France, Spain and the United States to once again be the three most visited countries in the world last year once it has final figures.

“We don’t really expect changes in the rankings,” said Carvao.

In 2018, France remained the world’s most visited nation with 89 million arrivals followed by Spain and the United States.

Despite the slowdown in the rise in international arrivals, tourism spending continued to grow in 2019, especially among the world’s top ten spenders.

France reported the strongest increase in international tourism spending, jumping 11 per cent, while spending by international visitors from the United States rose by 6.0 per cent due to the strong dollar.

But many emerging markets such as Brazil, China — the world’s top source market — and Saudi Arabia reported declines in tourism spending. — AFP

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