Exports from international tourism hit USD1.7 trillion in 2018 driven by ‘solid demand’ and ‘robust economic environment’

Exports generated by international tourism reached USD 1.7 trillion in 2018, a 4% increase in real terms over the previous year, a new report from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows. For the seventh year in a row, tourism exports grew faster than merchandise exports (+3%), reflecting what the UNWTO describes as “solid demand for international travel” in a “generally robust economic environment”.

Strong growth in outbound travel from many source markets around the world fuelled revenues from international tourism to reach a total USD1.7 trillion, says the UNWTO. This accounts for 29% of global service exports and 7% of overall exports of goods and services. These figures consolidate international tourism among the top five economic sectors in the world, behind chemical manufacturing and the fuel industry but ahead of the food and automotive industries.

“Rather than growing in volume we need to grow in value. We are pleased to see that both emerging and advanced economies around the world are benefiting from rising tourism income,” says UNWTO secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili. “Revenues from international tourism translate into jobs, entrepreneurship and a better situation for people and local economies, while reducing trade deficits in many countries.”

Total exports from international tourism include USD1,448 billion in international tourism receipts (visitor spending in destinations) and USD256 billion in international passenger transport services. Tourism constitutes a key source of foreign exchange and a major tool for export diversification for many destinations.

International tourism receipts increased 4% in real terms (adjusting for exchange rate fluctuations and inflation) to reach USD1,448 billion in 2018, about USD100 billion more than the previous year. This is consistent with the 6% increase in international tourist arrivals in 2018.

By regions, Asia and the Pacific led the way with 7% growth in international tourism receipts, followed by Europe with a 5% increase. The Middle East saw 3% growth, while Africa (+1%) and the Americas (0%) recorded more modest results. Central and Eastern Europe and North-East Asia (both +9%) were the subregions with the strongest growth.

Growth in receipts was fuelled by strong demand for international travel in the context of a robust global economy, says the UNWTO. Among the world’s top ten source markets, France and the Russian Federation both recorded 11% growth in outbound spending in 2018, while Australia saw a 10% increase.

China, the world’s top spender reported USD277 billion in international tourism expenditure in 2018, a 5% increase in real terms from a year earlier, while the United States, the second largest, spent 7% more, to reach USD144 billion. International expenditure from the United Kingdom grew 3% in 2018, and 4% from Italy, while Germany and the Republic of Korea both reported rather flat results. Further down the ranking, Spain enjoyed 12% higher spending on international tourism in 2018.