World welcomed 1.2bn international travellers in 2015

Global visitor arrivals increased 4.4% in 2015 to reach a total of 1.18 billion, according to the latest data from the UNWTO.

The result means that the world’s destinations welcomed an additional 50 million overnight visitors last year, compared with 2014. And 2015 marks the sixth consecutive year of above-average growth, with international arrivals having increased 4% or more every year since 2010.

“International tourism reached new heights in 2015,” said UNWTO secretary-general, Taleb Rifai. “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.”

Passengers at Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Passengers at Kuala Lumpur International Airport

While demand was generally strong, different regions produced a variety of results, relating to factors including security and health concerns, unusually strong exchange rate fluctuations and the drop in oil prices.

“2015 results were influenced by exchange rates, oil prices and natural and manmade crises in many parts of the world,” Rifai stated. “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.

“UNWTO urges governments to include tourism administrations in their national security planning, structures and procedures, not only to ensure that the sector’s exposure to threats is minimised but also to maximise the sector’s ability to support security and facilitation, as seamless and safe travel can and should go hand in hand,” he added.

Europe (+5%) led the growth in 2015, with visitor arrivals reaching 609m, or 29m more than in 2014. Asia Pacific (+5%) added 13m more international arrivals last year to reach 277m, driven by Oceania (+7%) and Southeast Asia (+5%).

Arrivals to the Americas (+5%) grew nine million to 191m, while the Middle East increased 3% to a total of 54m. And while limited data is available for Africa, the UNWTO estimates that arrivals declined 3% to approximately 53m in 2015.

China, with double-digit growth in expenditure every year since 2004, continues to lead global outbound travel. Two other emerging markets however – Russia and Brazil – declined significantly, but expenditure from the US (+9%) and UK (+6%) increased.

Looking ahead, the UNWTO has forecast 4% growth in global arrivals in 2016, driven by Asia Pacific and the Americas (both +4-5%).

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