MADRID – The number of international tourists rose last year by 6.7 percent to 935 million, exceeding the maximum pre-recession record, the World Tourism Organization said in a report released here Monday.
The total figure is 58 million tourists more than in 2009 and 22 million more than the previous record of 913 million set in 2008.
Though the great majority of destinations around the world showed positive results for 2010, the recovery came at two different rates of growth: 5 percent in developed economies and 8 percent in emerging markets, WTO chief Taleb Rifai told a press conference in Madrid.
The recovery reflects the global economic situation that will continue to influence 2011 and the foreseeable future, Rifai said, adding that “the challenge now is to consolidate that growth during the coming years in an uncertain world economic environment.”
Rifai acknowledged that the Madrid-based WTO is concerned about high unemployment rates, since the gradual job recovery foreseen for 2011 is still too weak to compensate for the jobs lost in the recession.
In any case, the sector will continue to grow in 2011 but at a slower pace, between 4 percent and 5 percent, he said.
By geographic areas, the Americas, with a year-on-year increase of almost 8 percent to 151 million visitors, recovered from the decline it suffered in 2009 because of economic difficulties in North America and the impact of the swine flu epidemic.
The recovery of the U.S. economy helped improve results in the region as a whole, as did “the growing regional integration of Central and South America, as well as the vitality of Latin American economies,” the WTO report says.
South America showed the greatest improvement, with 10.5-percent growth and 23.5 million tourists, followed by Central America with 8.3 percent and 8.3 million, North America with 7.8 percent and 99.2 million, and the Caribbean with 3.9 percent and 20.3 million.
With regard to the Americas, Rifai said that Central American countries have achieved “significant growth” and have very evidently benefited from uniting their efforts through the Central American Tourism Agency.
Asia was the first region to recover in 2010 and had the biggest growth, with 13 percent and 204 million tourists, while Europe’s improvement was slower with 3 percent – due to the shutting down of its air space in April following the eruption of an Icelandic volcano and the economic uncertainty of the euro zone – which was not sufficient to reverse its losses in 2009.
In that context, China in 2010 took over third place in total number of tourists from Spain, which in the previous tourist season lost second place to the U.S.
Nonetheless, Europe, with 471 million international visitors, continues to attract more than half of the world’s total annual tourism.
The WTO released these figures just prior to the opening Wednesday in Madrid of the 31st International Tourism Trade Fair, or Fitur, one of the top annual events for the sector, which will continue until Jan. 23 and this year will boast the participation of more than 10,500 companies from 166 countries. EFE