2015 marked the sixth consecutive year of above-average growth, with international arrivals increasing by 4% or more every year since the post-crisis year of 2010.
'The robust performance of the sector is contributing to economic growth and job creation in many parts of the world. It is thus critical for countries to promote policies that foster the continued growth of tourism, including travel facilitation, human resources development and sustainability,' UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai said.
Demand was strong overall, though with mixed results across individual destinations due to unusually strong exchange rate fluctuations, the drop in oil prices and other commodities which increased disposable income in importing countries but weakened demand in exporters, as well as increased safety and security concerns.
'As the current environment highlights in a particular manner the issues of safety and security, we should recall that tourism development greatly depends upon our collective capacity to promote safe, secure and seamless travel,' Rifai added.
Growth in advanced economy destinations (up 5%) exceeded that of emerging economies (up 4%), boosted by the solid results of Europe (up 5%).
By region, Europe, the Americas and Asia and the Pacific all recorded around 5% growth in 2015. Arrivals to the Middle East increased by 3% while in Africa, from limited data available, there was an estimated 3% decrease, mostly due to weak results in North Africa, which accounts for more than one-third of arrivals in the region.
Results from the UNWTO Confidence Index remain largely positive for 2016, though at a slightly lower level compared to the previous two years. Based on the current trend and this outlook, UNWTO projects international tourist arrivals to grow by 4% worldwide in 2016.
By region, growth is expected to be stronger in Asia and the Pacific (up 4% to 5%) and the Americas (up 4% to 5%), followed by Europe (up 3.5% to 4.5%). The projections for Africa (up 2% to 5%) and the Middle East (up 2% to 5%) are positive, though with a larger degree of uncertainty and volatility.
In 2015 Europe (up 5%) led growth in absolute and relative terms supported by a weaker euro vis-à-vis the US dollar and other main currencies. Arrivals reached 609m, or 29m more than in 2014. Central and Eastern Europe (up 6%) rebounded from last year’s decrease in arrivals. Northern Europe (up 6%), Southern Mediterranean Europe (up 5%) and Western Europe (up 4%) also recorded sound results, especially considering the many mature destinations they comprise.
Asia and the Pacific (up 5%) recorded 13m more international tourist arrivals last year to reach 277m, with uneven results across destinations. Oceania (up 7%) and Southeast Asia (up 5%) led growth, while South Asia and in Northeast Asia recorded an increase of 4%.
International tourist arrivals in the Americas (up 5%) grew 9m to reach 191m, consolidating the strong results of 2014. The appreciation of the US dollar stimulated outbound travel from the United States, benefiting the Caribbean and Central America, both recording 7% growth. Results in South America and North America (both up 4%) were close to the average.
International tourist arrivals in the Middle East grew by an estimated 3% to a total of 54m, consolidating the recovery initiated in 2014.
Limited available data for Africa points to a 3% decrease in international arrivals, reaching a total of 53m. In North Africa arrivals declined by 8% and in sub-Saharan Africa by 1%, though the latter returned to positive growth in the second half of the year. The UNWTO cautioned results for Africa and the Middle East should be read with caution as they are based on limited available data.
A few leading source markets drove tourism expenditure in 2015, supported by a strong currency and economy.
Among the world’s top source markets, China, with double-digit growth in expenditure every year since 2004, continues to lead global outbound travel, benefiting Asian destinations such as Japan and Thailand, as well as the US and various European destinations.
By contrast, expenditure from the previously very dynamic source markets of the Russian Federation and Brazil declined significantly, reflecting the economic constraints in both countries and the depreciation of the rouble and the real against virtually all other currencies.
As for the traditional advanced economy source markets, expenditure from the United States (up 9%), the world’s second largest source market, and the United Kingdom (up 6%) was boosted by a strong currency and rebounding economy. Spending from Germany, Italy and Australia grew at a slower rate (all up 2%), while demand from Canada and France was rather weak.