International Tourism Hits All-Time Record

International tourist arrivals reached an all-time record in 2014 with 1.138 billion international tourists staying at least one night, according to figures released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). That represents a growth of 4.7 percent over 2013, the fifth consecutive year of growth since the economic crisis of 2009.

To put that number in perspective, 1.138 billion tourists is just slightly less than the population of India, the world’s second most populous nation.

Among the world’s major regions, the Americas led the way with a growth of 7 percent, followed by Asia Pacific (+5 percent), Europe (+4 percent), the Middle East (+4 percent) and Africa (+2 percent). North America led the way among the sub-regions with a growth of 8 percent, followed by Northwest Asia, South Asia, Southern Europe, Northern Europe and the Caribbean, all of which experience growth of more than 7 percent.

Europe was the most visited region, with 588 million visitors, more than half of the world’s international tourist. Northern, Southern and Mediterranean Europe were the pacesetters, while Western Europe lagged with a growth of just 2 percent. Central and Eastern Europe saw no growth, following three years of strong growth.

UNTWO expects strong growth to continue in 2015, forecasting an increase of between 3 percent and 4 percent, with growth strongest in Asia and North America.

“We expect demand to continue growing in 2014 as the global economic situation improves, even though there’s many challenges ahead,” UNTWO reported. “On the positive side, oil prices have declined, which will lower transport costs. Yet, it could also negatively impact some of the oil-exporting nations.”

The large emerging markets, such as China, Russia and Brazil, have fueled the growth in tourist arrivals over the last several years but that growth slowed in 2014. Although the total number of trips abroad from China increased by 11 percent in 2014, that growth was less than in the three previous years. Russia, meanwhile, saw a decline of better than 6 percent in outbound international travel, and Brazil saw its growth flatten to just a little bit more than 2 percent.

A pickup in demand from traditional markets made up for the decline, including France (up 11 percent) and the United States (up 6 percent).