International tourist arrivals grew +5% in 2018, to reach the 1.4 billion mark, two years ahead of the World Tourism Organization’s long-term forecasts, according to the latest annual edition of the UNWTO International Tourism Highlights publication. The 2019 edition shows that at the same time, export earnings generated by tourism grew to USD1.7 trillion, an increase of +4%, outpacing the world economy in 2018.
In addition to the USD1.5 trillion in receipts that destinations earned, international tourism generated another USD256 billion from international passenger transport taken by non-residents to hit the USD 1.7 trillion total, or USD5 billion a day.
As per previous years the report provides a consolidated analysis of international tourism. It shows that 2018 was the ninth consecutive year of sustained growth and tourism now represents 7% of global exports, growing at a faster rate than merchandise exports for the last seven years.
“These results were driven by a favourable economic environment, a growing middle class in emerging economies, technological advances, new business models, increased air capacity, affordable travel costs and visa facilitation,” says Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of UNWTO.
CHART – Tourism revenues from visitor spending are growing faster than the world economySource: UNWTO International Tourism Highlights 2019
But it isn’t these standout figures that provide the most key insights into the sector and developing trends. Most notably, the big players dominate with the top ten tourism earners accounting for almost half of total tourism receipts, while the top ten destinations in arrivals receive 40% of worldwide arrivals, a real potential sustainability concern with the rising overtourism concerns.
Among the world’s top ten destinations in arrivals and receipts, France continued to lead in international tourist arrivals, while the United States of America (USA) remained the largest tourism earner in 2018. Japan entered the top ten earners ranking following seven years of double-digit growth in international tourism receipts.
In terms of geography, Asia and the Pacific and Africa led growth in arrivals with a +7% increase in 2018, while Asia and the Pacific and Europe enjoyed above-average growth in tourism earnings. China remained the world’s largest spender, with USD277 billion spending on international tourism in 2018 or one-fifth of international tourism expenditure, followed by the United States.
The growth in global air connectivity is certainly making the world a smaller place for travel and tourism with 58% of all international tourists arrive to their destinations by air. The share of air travel has increased from 46% in 2000 to 58% in 2018. This has been driven mainly by short-haul, rather than long-haul travel as four out of five tourists visit a destination in their own region.
This has been supported by rising point-to-point LCC activity, a point that also supports the rising share of leisure travel, which has grown from 50% in 2000 to 56% in 2018. Leisure travel is the main purpose of visit in all world regions except the Middle East, where visiting friends and relatives (VFR), or for health or religious purposes predominates.
Global connectivity is also being facilitated by less strict entry requirements with the latest edition showing that only a small majority of the population (53%) now require a traditional visa for travel, down from the three quarter (75%) figure recorded as recently as 1980.