International tourist arrivals grew six per cent in 2018, totalling 1.4 billion, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.
Long term forecasts issued by the organisation in 2010 indicated the 1.4 billion mark would be reached in 2020, yet the remarkable growth of international arrivals in recent years has seen the milestone reached two years earlier.
In relative terms, the Middle East (up ten per cent), Africa (up seven per cent), Asia and the Pacific and Europe (both at up six per cent) led growth in 2018.
Arrivals to the Americas were below the world average (up three per cent).
“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 focussing 2019 on education, skills and job creation.”
Based on current trends, economic prospects and the UNWTO Confidence Index, UNWTO forecasts international arrivals to grow three to four per cent next year, more in line with historic growth trends.
As a general backdrop, the stability of fuel prices tends to translate into affordable air travel while air connectivity continues to improve in many destinations, facilitating the diversification of source markets.
Trends also show strong outbound travel from emerging markets, especially India and Russia but also from smaller Asian and Arab source markets.
At the same time, the global economic slowdown, the uncertainty related to the Brexit, as well as geopolitical and trade tensions may prompt a “wait and see” attitude among investors and travellers.