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Tourist Arrivals Two Years Ahead of Forecasts: UNWTO

International tourist arrivals grew 6% last year, totalling 1.4 billion, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.

UNWTO’s long term forecast issued in 2010 indicated the 1.4 billion mark would be reached in 2020, yet the remarkable growth of international arrivals in recent years has brought it two years ahead.

UNWTO estimates that worldwide international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) increased 6% to 1.4 billion in 2018, clearly above the 3.7% growth registered in the global economy.

In relative terms, the Middle East (+10%), Africa (+7%), Asia and the Pacific and Europe (both at +6%) led growth in 2018. Arrivals to the Americas were below the world average (+3%).

“The growth of tourism in recent years confirms that the sector is today one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and development. It is our responsibility to manage it in a sustainable manner and translate this expansion into real benefits for all countries, and particularly, to all local communities, creating opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship and leaving no one behind,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “This is why UNWTO is focusing 2019 on education, skills and job creation.”

The Americas (+3%) welcomed 217 million international arrivals in 2018, with mixed results across destinations. Growth was led by North America (+4%), and followed by South America (+3%), while Central America and the Caribbean (both -2%) reached very mixed results, the latter reflecting the impact of the September 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Based on current trends, economic prospects and the UNWTO Confidence Index, UNWTO forecasts international arrivals to grow 3% to 4% this year, more in line with historic growth trends.

Overall, 2019 is expected to see the consolidation among consumers of emerging trends such as the quest for “travel to change and to show,” “the pursuit of healthy options” such as walking, wellness and sports tourism, “multi-generational travel” as a result of demographic changes and more responsible travel.

“Digitalization, new business models, more affordable travel and societal changes are expected to continue shaping our sector, so both destination and companies need to adapt if they want to remain competitive,” added Pololikashvili.

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