In the first four months of 2006 there were around 236 million international tourist arrivals worldwide, or 10 million more than in the same period of 2005, reflecting the sustained growth in global tourism demand that started in 2004.
These are the findings based on the data gathered by the United Nations specialised agency, the World Tourism Organisation, for January to April 2006, as presented in the latest issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.
Although the rate of growth has slowed slightly, in line with the forecast published in the January issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, 2006 has got off to a good start, with the first four months of the year recording a 4.5 per cent growth in international tourist arrivals worldwide.
Africa and the Middle East (both +11 per cent), as well as Asia and the Pacific (+8 per cent), showed faster than average growth, while Europe and the Americas grew at a more moderate pace – at just under 3 per cent.
The first months of 2006 were also marked by the much expected recovery of the destinations hit by the December 2004 tsunami.
Arrivals in the Maldives were as much as 97 per cent above the same period last year. Sri Lanka (+25 per cent) also did well, while foreign arrivals in Thailand through Bangkok airport rose by 29 per cent in the first three months of 2006. Indonesia’s recovery, meanwhile, has been compromised by the 27 May earthquake that occurred in the vicinity of Indonesia’s second favourite tourism destination, Yogyakarta.
Although it has already had an impact on tourism demand, the report says it should not seriously affect traffic to the many other destinations of the large and diverse Indonesian archipelago, such as Bali, Lombok, Sumatra or Jakarta.
Recovery will not be easy, nonetheless, and will require support and commitment from the international community – as were so quickly forthcoming after the tsunami tragedy.
Looking back, 2006’s trends so far confirm that disruptions, while definitely affecting destinations at a local level and over a specific period of time, do not alter global or regional traffic flows.
Major factors contributing to the current growth trend include the favourable economic situation in key generating markets, the fact that consumer confidence remains high and, last but not least, the efforts of national administrations to develop and promote tourism.
UNWTO Secretary General, Mr. Francesco Frangialli is quoted as saying, ‘International tourism has now entered a more stable phase of sustained demand without big peaks and troughs. Although the rate of growth is slowing gradually, international tourism is firmly on track to grow at a rate above the long-term average of 4 per cent for the third year in a row now – barring unexpected events, of course.
“There are currently three major factors that could affect this positive trend. These are terrorism, higher oil prices (especially for aviation fuel), and of course, the threat of an avian flu outbreak, not to mention others such as worries about the risk of an attack during a trip, the multiplication of security restrictions, stricter visa-issuance rules, restrictive immigration practices and unreasonable proliferation of ‘travel advisories’ issued by governments to deal with it.
‘In the case of the oil prices, experience and recent UNWTO research on the impact of higher energy prices show that the recent rise and volatility in oil prices have not noticeably influenced tourism demand, at least as far as is demonstrated by the latest data on tourist arrivals and the continued growth of air travel. And, while past oil price peaks did affect tourism negatively through the impact on the economy at large, the global economy has remained steady on this occasion and it is expected to remain strong through 2007. As for the potential avian flu pandemic, if it were to occur it would of course deal mean a severe blow to international tourism – undoubtedly of a greater magnitude than that of the SARS outbreak in 2003.
‘This is why UNWTO, within the UN system, is working with a network of government and industry bodies committed to making travel as safe as possible and to ensuring that the sector is fully prepared for any influenza developments,’ added Mr. Frangialli.
Looking specifically at the Americas, the overall growth (+2.7 per cent) was below average, a result much influenced by the performance of North America.
Results for destinations in North America (-0.4 per cent) were well under this average due to the continued poor performance of Canada (-4 per cent), struggling with an extraordinarily strong Canadian dollar, and the foreseen drop of Mexico (-2 per cent), still recovering from the damage brought by Hurricane Wilma, which hit the Yucatan Peninsula last October.
However, there are encouraging signs in Mexico as April was the first month to show positive growth in terms of international arrivals since November 2005. Arrivals in the USA more or less stagnated (+0.5 per cent to March), but it is important to note that these results do not include April data, which will surely show the positive impact of the Easter holidays.
By contrast, all other American sub regions reported an above average performance. In the Caribbean (+7 per cent), major destinations such as the Dominican Republic (+12 per cent) and Jamaica (+16 per cent) posted double-digit growth rates.
Meanwhile, while Central America (+11 per cent) has sustained its impressive double-digit growth level achieved in 2004 and 2005, South America’s growth (+8 per cent) appears to have slowed slightly, in spite of the fact that many destinations like Paraguay (+23 per cent), Peru (+16 per cent to March), Colombia (+15 per cent) and Argentina (+12 per cent for quarter one) ended the first months of 2006 with double-digit increases.