MADRID – Despite ongoing global economic uncertainty, international tourist arrivals exceeded 1 billion for the first time last year, with those numbers expected to rise further in 2013, a U.N. body said Tuesday.
The number of arrivals grew by 4 percent to 1.035 billion in 2012, up from 996 million in 2011, the Madrid-based United Nations World Tourism Organization said in an annual survey.
“2012 was a year of constant economic instability in the entire world, especially in the eurozone. Despite this, international tourism managed to maintain its course,” the body’s secretary general, Taleb Rifai, said at a news conference.
“We had a very good last quarter, much better than expected,” he added.
The Asia-Pacific region posted the largest growth in visitor arrivals last year, with the number up 15 million, or 6.8 percent, to 233 million.
Growth was highest in Southeast Asia, with the number of arrivals up by 8.7 percent from 2011.
The Asia-Pacific region benefited from a recovery in the number of foreign visitors to Japan last year following a drop in 2011 after the tsunami, earthquake and ensuing Fukushima nuclear disaster left parts of the country devastated, Rifai said.
The improvement in the Japanese economy, the world’s third largest, also contributed to the rise in visitors in Asia, he added.
Europe, the most visited region in the world, saw international tourist arrivals climb 6 percent last year to 535 million.
“Europe did much better than expected at 3.0 percent, which is excellent for a mature economy, especially knowing that more than half of all arrivals come to Europe,” Rifai said.
The only region to report a decline in tourist numbers compared with 2011 was the Middle East, with 5 percent fewer arrivals as political instability persisted in popular tourist spots such as Egypt and Syria. Still, the drop in the number of visitors to the region was smaller than the decline of 7 posted in 2011.
“The picture is a little bit mixed with some countries like Egypt, which are doing slightly better but not as well as 2010,” Rifai said.
The organization forecasts international tourist numbers will grow in 2013, although at a slightly lower rate of 3-4 percent.
Asia and Africa are expected to post the greatest growth in tourist numbers this year.
The agency predicts tourist arrivals will increase by 5-6 percent in the Asia-Pacific region this year and by 4-6 percent in Africa.
The Middle East was expected to see zero to 5 percent growth, while Europe was forecast to rise 2-3 percent.