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In this February 25, 2015 photo, tourists look for souvenirs at a shop in Trinidad, southern Cuba. - File

Int'l tourist arrivals up four per cent

International tourism demand continued to be robust between January and April 2015, with tourist arrivals increasing four per cent worldwide according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. Almost all regions enjoyed strong growth. Prospects for the May-August period remain upbeat, with close to 500 million tourists expected to travel abroad during these four months.

Destinations worldwide received some 332 million international tourists (overnight visitors) between January and April 2015, 16 million more than the same period last year, corresponding to an increase of four per cent.

This result follows an increase of 4.3 per cent in 2014 and consolidates the upwards trend of international tourism in recent years (+4.5 per cent international tourist arrivals a year on average since 2010).

By region, the Americas (+6 per cent) led growth, followed by Europe, Asia and the Pacific and the Middle East, all recording four per cent to five per cent more arrivals. By subregion, Oceania and South America boasted the strongest increase (both +8 per cent), followed by the Caribbean and Central and Eastern Europe (both +7 per cent), the latter rebounding from last year's decline. In Africa, demand weakened in 2014 after years of solid growth, affected mainly by the Ebola outbreak among other challenges. Limited data currently available for January-April 2015 points to a six per cent decline, as African destinations struggle to recover from the misperceptions affecting the continent.

Strong results across many destinations

"It is encouraging to see the tourism sector consolidating its excellent results despite security concerns and unrest in many parts of our world", said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. "This underscores that tourism is a surprisingly resilient economic sector which increasingly contributes to development in many countries around the globe. For national governments, it is a reminder that tourism can be part of the solution to foster socio-economic development and job creation," he added.

In the Americas (+6 per cent), all four subregions continued to enjoy significant growth in January-April 2015, led by South America (+8 per cent) and the Caribbean (+7 per cent). Strong outbound demand from the United States fuelled results as 20 million US tourists travelled abroad through April, 7 per cent more than during the same period last year.

Asia and the Pacific (+4 per cent) consolidated its growth of recent years, with Oceania (+8 per cent) and North-East Asia (+5 per cent) in the lead. South-East Asia (+3 per cent) recorded moderate results this four-month period as the rebound in Thailand (+25 per cent) was offset by declines in other destinations.

Europe, the world's most visited region, enjoyed continued strength with international tourist arrivals growing by 5 per cent through April. Arrivals in Central and Eastern Europe increased by 7 per cent, rebounding on the poor results of 2014 following the conflict in Ukraine and the slowdown of the Russian economy. Southern Mediterranean Europe (+5 per cent) maintained strong growth, though for many destinations these are low season months. Western Europe and Northern Europe both enjoyed a solid 4% increase in arrivals, partly due to good results in traditional winter sports destinations.

International tourist arrivals in the Middle East are estimated to be up by 4 per cent through April, further continuing the region's recovery, which started in 2014 after three consecutive years of declines. Africa's international tourist numbers, on the other hand, declined by an estimated 6 per cent as a consequence of the decrease in arrivals to North Africa (-7 per cent) as well as to sub-Saharan Africa (-5 per cent). Figures for both Africa and the Middle East should be read with caution, as they are based on limited available data for these regions.

"The Ebola crisis in West Africa and the security concerns are serious challenges for Africa's tourism and for the international community as a whole. We must work together in managing and overcoming these challenges and in supporting destinations for a prompt recovery. It is important to remember that tourism is the lifeline of many communities around the world and that we face today a global threat that affects all our societies," said Rifai.

Optimistic prospects for the coming months

Close to 500 million tourists are estimated to travel abroad between May and August 2015, the Northern Hemisphere holiday peak season, a total that accounts for some 41 per cent of all international tourist arrivals registered in a year.

According to the latest results of the UNWTO Tourism Confidence Index, prospects for this period continue to be bullish and are the highest for this period since the pre-crisis year 2007. The sentiment is positive among all regions and areas of activity.

Business intelligence tool ForwardKeys also shows healthy growth in international air travel reservations for May-August 2015. Overall bookings are up 5 per cent thanks to strong demand for domestic air travel (+7 per cent) and continued growth in international travel (+4 per cent). By region, air reservations increased most in Asia and the Pacific, the Americas and Europe, while reservations to and from Africa and the Middle East are weaker.

According to the forecast issued by UNWTO in January this year, international tourist arrivals are expected to increase by three per cent to four per cent for the full year 2015, in line with UNWTO's long-term forecast of 3.8 per cent a year for the period 2010 to 2020.

Results presented here reflect preliminary data reported to date and are subject to revision. 

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