The global economy remains as uncertain as ever, the vagaries of stock markets and consumer spending and confidence capable of shifting as quickly as clouds change shape. But, Gulliver reports that the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has recently released its 2012 edition [PDF] and has found increases in international travel and spending, excellent news for anyone with an interest in travel. In fact, year after year people have been traveling more in staggering numbers for the better part of the past three decades, according to the report: “Despite occasional shocks, international tourist arrivals have shown virtually uninterrupted growth – from 277 million in 1980 to 528 million in 1995, and 983 million in 2011.” At this rate, the next year will most likely push international tourist arrivals to over one billion.
Of course, such a report needs to be looked at closely to get an accurate and telling picture. Peeling back the layers results in numerous interesting statistics. For all the problems confronting the euro zone, Europe as a whole enjoyed the greatest increase in tourist arrivals of any continent, with 504 million in 2011, an uptick of 29 million arrivals compared to the previous year. Asia also experienced a significant increase in tourist arrivals, up 6% from the previous year. In terms of the nationalities doing the actual traveling, and spending, Germans sit atop the list, having spent over $84 billion. The number two and three spots belong to the US and China, respectively; what’s really interesting is that China’s $72 billion in spending is an increase of over 32% compared to last year’s figure. England, France, Canada, Russia, Italy, Japan, and Australia round out the top ten in terms of spending.
Another compelling stat shared by the UNWTO covers emerging economies: “In the past, emerging economy destinations have grown faster than advanced economy destinations, and this trend is set to continue in the future.” Which, as I read it, basically means that “off-the-beaten-path” destinations might not remain as such for long. This might not be welcome news to travelers who like to keep their favorite spots secret, but for many people in such destinations, such growth can make all the difference.
Finally, it is good to know that the UNWTO includes business travelers in its “international tourist arrival” numbers. With that in mind, perhaps the most promising figure for the travel industry, and for all travelers looking to take a trip in the not too distant future, is the fact that 51% of international tourist arrivals last year fell under “travel for leisure, recreation and holidays,” meaning just over half of all travelers in 2011 were on vacation.