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International tourism up 4% in first half of 2019, World Tourism Organization reports

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International tourist arrivals grew 4% from January to June 2019, compared to the same period last year, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer published ahead of the 23rd World Tourism Organization General Assembly. Growth was led by the Middle East (+8%) and Asia and the Pacific (+6%). International arrivals in Europe grew 4%, while Africa (+3%) and the Americas (+2%) enjoyed more moderate growth.

Destinations worldwide received 671 million international tourist arrivals between January and June 2019, almost 30 million more than in the same period of 2018 and a continuation of the growth recorded last year.

Growth in arrivals is returning to its historic trend and is in line with UNWTO’s forecast of 3% to 4% growth in international tourist arrivals for the full year 2019, as reported in the January Barometer.

So far, the drivers of these results have been a strong economy, affordable air travel, increased air connectivity and enhanced visa facilitation. However, weaker economic indicators, prolonged uncertainty about Brexit, trade and technological tensions and rising geopolitical challenges, have started to take a toll on business and consumer confidence, as reflected in a more cautious UNWTO Confidence Index.

Regional Performance

Europe grew 4% in the first six months of 2019, with a positive first quarter followed by an above-average second quarter (April: +8% and June: +6%), reflecting a busy Easter and the start of the summer season in the world’s most visited region. Intraregional demand fueled much of this growth, though performance among major European source markets was uneven, amid weakening economies. Demand from overseas markets such as the USA, China, Japan and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) also contributed to these positive results.

Asia and the Pacific (+6%) recorded above world average growth during the January-June 2019 period, largely fueled by Chinese outbound travel. Growth was led by South Asia and North-East Asia (both +7%), followed by South-East Asia (+5%), and arrivals in Oceania increased by 1%.

In the Americas (+2%), results improved in the second quarter after a weak start of the year. The Caribbean (+11%) benefitted from strong US demand and continued to rebound strongly from the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria in late 2017, a challenge which the region unfortunately faces once again. North America recorded 2% growth, while Central America (+1%) showed mixed results. In South America, arrivals were down 5% partly due to a decline in outbound travel from Argentina which affected neighboring destinations.

In Africa, limited available data points to a 3% increase in international arrivals. North Africa (+9%) continues to show robust results, following two years of double-digit figures, while growth in Sub-Saharan Africa was flat (+0%).

The Middle East (+8%) saw two strong quarters, reflecting a positive winter season, as well as an increase in demand during Ramadan in May and Eid Al-Fitr in June. 

Source Markets – mixed results amid trade tensions and economic uncertainty 

Performance has been uneven across major tourism outbound markets.

Chinese outbound tourism (+14% in trips abroad) continued to drive arrivals in many destinations in the region during the first half of the year though spending on international travel was 4% lower in real terms in the first quarter. Trade tensions with the USA as well as the slight depreciation of the yuan, may influence destination choice by Chinese travelers in the short term.

Outbound travel from the USA, the world’s second largest spender, remained solid (+7%), supported by a strong dollar. In Europe, spending on international tourism by France (+8%) and Italy (+7%) was robust, though the United Kingdom (+3%) and Germany (+2%) reported more moderate figures.

Among the Asian markets, spending from Japan (+11%) was strong while the Republic of Korea spent 8% less in the first half of 2019, partly due to the depreciation of the Korean won. Australia spent 6% more on international tourism.

The Russian Federation saw a 4% decline in spending in the first quarter, following two years of strong rebound. Spending out of Brazil and Mexico were down 5% and 13% respectively, partly reflecting the wider situation of the two largest Latin American economies.

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Tourism

UNWTO and Greece to Collaborate on Maritime Tourism Research Centre

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UNWTO is to collaborate with the Greek Ministry of Tourism in establishing a first research station dedicated to measuring the sustainable development of coastal and maritime tourism across the Mediterranean.

The new monitoring centre will be based at the University of the Aegean in Greece. From here, experts will capture and collate measurement data and analysis relating to the environmental, economic, and social impact of tourism.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: “Coastal and Maritime tourism is one of the most important economic drivers within the Mediterranean basin. This new research centre can provide key data to guide the restart and future development of the sector, ensuring it fulfils its potential to provide opportunity for coastal communities and to protect and celebrate natural and cultural heritage.”

The United Nations specialized agency and the Ministry of Tourism confirmed their collaboration on the initiative during the UNWTO High-Level Conference on Coastal and Maritime Tourism, held in Athens and co-hosted by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and Celebrity Cruises.

The Tourism Minister of Greece Harry Theoharis said: “I express my immense gratitude for UNWTO’s support in this endeavour. The Research Center will soon become a reference point for the study and protection of our coasts and seas.”

Pierfrancesco Vago, Global Chairman of CLIA and Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises added: “CLIA is pleased to support the UNWTO research and monitoring centre on sustainability and coastal maritime tourism in the Mediterranean. As part of the cruise industry’s commitment to responsible travel, we are pursuing carbon neutral cruising in Europe by 2050, and we work closely with cruise destinations and coastal communities to support economic growth in a sustainable manner.

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Tourist Numbers Down 83% but Confidence Slowly Rising

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International tourist arrivals were down 83% in the first quarter of 2021 as widespread travel restrictions remained in place. However, the UNWTO Confidence Index shows signs of a slow uptick in confidence.

Between January and March 2021 destinations around the world welcomed 180 million fewer international arrivals compared to the first quarter of last year. Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94% drop in international arrivals over the three-month period. Europe recorded the second largest decline with -83%, followed by Africa (-81%), the Middle East (-78%) and the Americas (-71%). This all follows on from the 73% fall in worldwide international tourist arrivals recorded in 2020, making it the worst year on record for the sector. 

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili comments: “There is significant pent-up demand and we see confidence slowly returning. Vaccinations will be key for recovery, but we must improve coordination and communication while making testing easier and more affordable if we want to see a rebound for the summer season in the northern hemisphere.”

The latest survey of the UNWTO Panel of Tourism Experts shows prospects for the May-August period improving slightly. Alongside this, the pace of the vaccination rollout in some key source markets as well as policies to restart tourism safely, most notably the EU Digital Green Certificate, have boosted hopes for a rebound in some of these markets.

Overall, 60% expect a rebound in international tourism only in 2022, up from 50% in the January 2021 survey. The remaining 40% see a potential rebound in 2021, though this is down slightly from the percentage in January. Nearly half of the experts do not see a return to 2019 international tourism levels before 2024 or later, while the percentage of respondents indicating a return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 has somewhat decreased (37%), when compared to the January survey.

https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/4223532/embed?auto=1 Tourism experts point to the continued imposition of travel restrictions and the lack of coordination in travel and health protocols as the main obstacle to the sector’s rebound.

The Impact of COVID on Tourism cuts global exports by 4%

The UNWTO World Tourism Barometer also shows the economic toll of the pandemic. International tourism receipts in 2020 declined by 64% in real terms (local currencies, constant prices), equivalent to a drop of over US$ 900 billion, cutting the overall worldwide exports value by over 4% in 2020. The total loss in export revenues from international tourism (including passenger transport) amounts to nearly US$ 1.1 trillion. Asia and the Pacific (-70% in real terms) and the Middle East (-69%) saw the largest drops in receipts.

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Empowering Indigenous Communities to Drive Tourism’s Recovery

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Photo: Alex Azabache/Unsplash

The cultural diversity and knowledge of indigenous peoples can bring innovative experiences and new business opportunities for tourism destinations and local communities, and help them recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on this, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has partnered with the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) on a set of guidelines, designed to ensure this type of experiences are respectful and led by the indigenous communities themselves.

The new UNWTO Inclusive Recovery Guide, Issue 4: Indigenous Communities, is the fourth set of guidelines addressing the socio-cultural impacts of COVID-19 issued by UNWTO. The partners call for placing Indigenous communities at the centre of recovery plans and for partnerships geared towards gathering accurate data on Indigenous tourism, and how it has been affected by the pandemic.

These recommendations draw on the partners’ expertise and set out solutions for the socio-economic empowerment of Indigenous Peoples through tourism. These include transitioning from “assisting” to “enabling” indigenous entrepreneurship, strengthening skills and building capacities, fostering digital literacy for running tourism businesses, and acknowledging the relevance of indigenous peoples by destination authorities and the tourism sector overall.

The Guide, launched on the occasion of the International Day of Cultural Diversity, builds on the decade-long partnership between UNWTO and WINTA. The two organizations work together to enable indigenous communities untap their tourism potential and promote their success stories. The most recent collaboration, the Weaving the Recovery Project, focuses on empowering Indigenous women through responsible tourism experiences and indigenous artisanship in Latin America.

The recommendations also benefitted from inputs provided by the Organization for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In recent years, the OECD has also significantly advanced its policy research and promotion of good practices and networks championing indigenous tourism within its Member countries.

UNWTO stands ready to support platforms which reinforce indigenous peoples’ networks, making them the ultimate decision makers of tourism operations affecting their livelihoods.

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