INTERNATIONAL. Early signs of recovery in the tourism sector are already in evidence, with stronger prospects for a bounceback in 2010 also indicated, according to the latest analysis from The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Revised economic predictions from the IMF, together with preliminary international tourism figures up to August, suggest some moderation in the declining results of the first half of this year, UNWTO said.
In addition the UNWTO Panel of Experts Confidence Index reflects stronger confidence in market conditions, with International Arrivals declining by a modest -4% in July – a relative improvement when compared to decreases of -10% in May and -7% in June.
Many destinations show a similar pattern of improvement, particularly in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, UNWTO added.
INTERNATIONAL TOURISM AND THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS
The negative trend in international tourism that emerged during the second half of 2008 intensified in 2009 due to the rapid deterioration of the world economy, combined with the effects of the influenza A (H1N1) outbreak, UNWTO said.
Based on preliminary results from 140 destination countries, international tourist Arrivals worldwide are estimated to have declined by -7% in the period January to July 2009, compared to the same period last year.
In absolute terms, the number of international tourist arrivals worldwide reached 500 million in the first seven months of 2009, down from 540 million in the same period of 2008.
Arrivals in 2009 are currently between the levels of 2007 and 2006. The first seven months of the year generally account for roughly 57% of the total annual number, the organization added.
THE TURNING POINT?
Data for July shows a relative improvement and for countries that already reported data for August, these two high season months have not in general been as depressed as the first six months of the year. Other industry indicators from the aviation and accommodation sectors corroborate this upward trend.
“As the latest economic data and prospects indicate that the world economy may be starting to emerge from its most severe recession of the post second world war period, in tourism too there are signs that confidence is returning and that demand is improving for both business and leisure travel” said UNWTO Secretary-General a.i. Taleb Rifai.
With the exception of Africa, all regions recorded a decrease in arrivals for the first seven months of 2009 according to UNWTO figures:
– Europe (-8%) is still enduring the impact of recession in the majority of its source markets but the encouraging improvement in data for the peak month of July (-4% as compared to -11% in May and -7% in June) shows that demand might be picking up in the world’s most visited region.
– Results have also improved in Asia and the Pacific (-6%) where some destinations such as the Republic of Korea or Malaysia, are bucking the overall negative trend with significant increases. It is even very likely that Asia has returned to positive growth in August, as many destinations already reported data for this month showing significant improvement.
– In the Americas (-7%), though there was also a lower decline rate in July, this has not been as significant as in Europe due to the fact that some destinations have been impacted by the influenza A(H1N1) outbreak.
– Although the decline in the Middle East is significant (-13%), this is the only region, apart from Africa, which has posted positive results in June and July this year. Arrivals are still well above the 2007 level as the current decline follows two very strong growth years. Also in the Middle East, various destinations bucked the overall trend and reported noteworthy growth rates, i.e. Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
– Positive results in Africa (+4%) reflect the strength of North African destinations around the Mediterranean and the positive results of destinations such as Kenya, South Africa or Swaziland.
Unstable economic conditions, combined with the uncertainties brought about by the influenza A(H1N1), are expected to continue to impact on tourism demand – at least in the short term, said UNWTO.
As rates of decline continue to ease during the remainder of 2009, international tourism is forecast to decrease between -6% and -4% this year.
And though many sub-regions might return to growth in the last months of 2009, this is not expected to compensate for the losses felt so far.
Growth for the full year is projected to be negative in all regions, except for Africa.
UNWTO is presenting a Roadmap for Recovery at its forthcoming General Assembly, highlighting the contribution tourism can make to the ongoing global efforts to tackle the economic crisis, positioning tourism as a primary vehicle for job creation and economic recovery, and the transformation to the Green Economy.
“Long-term prospects remain positive if the sector is able to address its challenges in a coordinated and effective manner,” said Secretary-General a.i. Taleb Rifai.
“Today, world leaders are working together in ways that would have been unimaginable at any time in the past, to coordinate and collaborate on economy, climate response and the development agenda. The tourism sector should do the same on the road to recovery and towards a more sustainable industry,” he added.
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