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Spectacular rebound of international tourism in 2004

Tourism results for the period from January to August 2004 collected by the World Tourism Organization…

Tourism results for the period from January to August 2004 collected by the World Tourism Organization (WTO) show a spectacular rebound of tourism as all regions saw a surge in international arrivals.

Worldwide the number of international tourist arrivals is estimated to have grown by 12 per cent compared to the same months of the previous year. Asia and the Pacific led all regions with an exceptional increase of 37% in the first eight months of the year, while North America returned to positive figures (+12%) after more than three years of losses.

The October 2004 issue of the WTO World Tourism Barometer, presented on Wednesday by Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli on the occasion of the Monaco World Summit and meeting of the WTO Strategic Group, show that tourism is firmly back on the upward track with many destinations reporting double-digit, and some even triple-digit, monthly increases. After an already significant increase of 13% in the first four months of 2004, worldwide international arrivals grew by an estimated 23% in May, by 12% in June, by 10% in July and by 6% in August.

According to projections based on this data, in the peak month of August the number of worldwide international tourist arrivals topped the 90 million mark for the first time. For the entire eight-month period from January to August, the number of international tourist arrivals is estimated to have reached around 526 million, corresponding to an increase of some 58 million arrivals (+12%) compared to the same period of 2003. This leap is of course first of all a reaction to last year`s depressed figures due to the Iraq war, SARS and the weak economy. Nevertheless, compared to the corresponding months of the previous record year 2002, the gain is still 41 million arrivals (+9%).

According to WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli, tourism has recovered strongly in 2004, in particular in Asia and the Pacific and in the Americas, and is again in an ascendant curve. The fear factor has clearly faded away and travel confidence is back. Even though many threats remain, we see that they have far less impact on tourism than before. The world economy is performing well, notwithstanding concerns about the volatility of oil prices. We trust that the continuing vigour of emerging markets such as China, and the renewed strength of the more established markets of the US, Japan and Western Europe, will continue to encourage travel.


Asia and the Pacific

Destinations in Asia and the Pacific, and in particular in North-East and South-East Asia, have bounced back stunningly from the losses suffered in 2003 due to SARS. Intra-regional demand is strong, fuelled by the rapidly growing Chinese outbound market but also by the renewed strength of the Japanese market, which saw an increase in departures of 31% up to August 2004 and is positive for the first time in this period since 2001. It is worth recalling that China already in 2003 surpassed Japan in the number of outbound travellers and thus became the main Asian generating market, with a total of 20.2 million trips abroad.

Arrivals to North-East Asia grew by an impressive 37% over the first eight months of 2004 as all destinations posted double-digit growth. In China, which recorded an increase of 32% in international tourist arrivals up to August, intra-regional traffic picked up while long-haul arrivals from Europe and Americas are also steadily recovering. Chinese departures, on the other hand, were up by 82% to May, benefiting in particular Hong Kong (China) and Macao (China), where total arrivals grew by 58% and 36% (up to September) respectively. Other destinations such as Taiwan (Pr. of China) (+46% in arrivals and +38% in receipts), the Republic of Korea (+28% arrivals and +21% receipts) and Japan (+24% in arrivals and in receipts) are also gaining back the losses of the SARS months, due to the particularly good performance of the intra-regional market, but also to the progressive return of the long-haul markets of Europe and the Americas.

In South-East Asia total arrivals increased by an extraordinary 45%. Growth rates of over 25% were seen in all destinations, except Lao PDR (+13%) and Myanmar (+21%). Arrivals rose 68% in Malaysia (+70% receipts), 44% in Cambodia, 48% in Singapore, 36% in Vietnam, 30% in Indonesia and 28% in Philippines and in Thailand (+26% in tourism receipts).

In Oceania arrivals have surged by 17% as the two main destinations, Australia and New Zealand, increased their results by 13% and 15% respectively. Australia`s strong economy, a stable exchange rate and a large re-branding campaign are factors to consider in such performances.

In South Asia arrivals grew by 23% on an already double-digit 2003. India continues to post excellent results (+26%) thanks to increased promotion and product development, but also to the upsurge in business travel driven by the rapid economic development of the country. Arrivals to other destinations such as Nepal (+21%), Maldives (+15%) and Sri Lanka (+7%) also thrived.


After more than three years of continuous losses the Americas is again back on the expansion path thanks to the long-awaited rebound of North America. Total arrivals to the region grew by 12% with increases above 8% in all sub-regions. Intraregional traffic is strong but the region is also profiting from the upturn of interregional traffic from Europe to in particular to North America and the Caribbean.

After the setbacks of the past three years, North America is at last on the positive side. Arrivals improved by 12% over the same period of last year as all three destinations saw their results improving by over 8% in the first 7 to 8 months of 2004. Arrivals to the US, which have been finally positive since the last quarter of 2003 and showed double-digit increases for the past six months in a row, grew by 15% up to July. The rebound of the US economy and of US consumers` travel confidence is benefiting Mexico (+11%), where the low value of the peso versus the US dollar also contributed to the good results obtained by the destination. The recovery in Canada has been slower than anticipated, as arrivals started to pick up only in March, and even then at a slow pace as compared to the drops during the same months of 2003. Total arrivals up to August increased by 9%, still a bit short of compensating for last year`s SARS decline. Results may be partially explained by restrained car travel from the US due to higher US fuel prices and by stricter border security procedures. The upward trend of arrivals to North America was followed by a steady augmentation of tourism receipts, which increased by almost 22% in the US, by 13% in Mexico and by 7% in Canada, although in the cases of Canada and the US the gains are based on the depressed levels of 2003.

In the Caribbean arrivals grew by 8% over the first eight months of 2004, and apart from some exceptions such as Bermuda or Martinique, all destinations maintained the good results of the final months of 2003, as competitive advantages derived from a weak US dollar continued. Major destinations such as the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Puerto Rico reported increases between 7% and 10%, while many of the smaller destinations reported double-digit increases.

In Central and South America traffic continues to thrive strongly with increases of 19% and 15% respectively as a result of regional political and economic stability, favourable exchange rates and the recovery of the US economy. In Central America, significant growth was recorded in Guatemala (+34%), Panama (+20%) and Nicaragua (+16%). Intra-regional traffic has also improved thanks to the facilitation of border procedures such as the free circulation between Guatemala and Nicaragua implemented in March 2004, which benefited these countries as well as neighbouring El Salvador, where arrivals grew by 5% until August. In South America, Argentina, which is still profiting from the adjustment of prices after the 2002 devaluation, reported an 11% increase in the first two quarters of 2004 following an already very positive 2003. Arrivals climbed also strongly in Uruguay (+29%), Chile (+17%), Paraguay (+15%) and Ecuador (+7%) as destinations continue to recover traffic from the important Argentinean and Brazilian outbound markets.


International tourist arrivals in Europe grew by an estimated 6% up to August 2004 over the same period of last year. Higher than average growth was recorded in Central and Eastern Europe (+16%) with double-digit increases in most destinations, and in Northern Europe (+8%), where the United Kingdom (+13%) posted the most notable results.

Growth was slower in the more mature destinations of Southern Mediterranean Europe (+4%) and Western Europe (+2%). Following the trend already visible in 2003, the strength of the euro emerges as a major factor in the present performance of European tourism. Major traditional destinations, such as Italy (-0.1% until July), France (+0.1% in terms of overnight stays up to September), Spain (+2% until September) or Portugal (-3% in overnight stays until August), have seen their expansion restrained by the strong euro, in particular regarding the sun and sea segment. On the other hand, other destinations of Europe, such as Turkey (+29% up to September), Croatia (+6%) or Slovenia (+6%) and Mediterranean destinations of North Africa and Middle East, such as Egypt (+49%), Morocco (+17%) or Tunisia (+19%), benefited from this factor. It is also interesting to note the growing popularity of travel from Europe to destinations in the Caribbean or in the Americas (Mexico and Brazil) as the strong euro and decreasing airfares make these destinations more and more accessible and a competitive alternative to the Mediterranean. One positive development for Europe, however, has been the gradual return of traffic from the long-haul markets of the US and Japan to the various international European city destinations, in spite of the strong euro.

Africa and the Middle East

Most destinations in the Middle East with monthly data available continue the good performance of 2003 and the beginning of 2004, based on the continued strong development of the intra-regional market. Lebanon, for example, received 42% more tourists from the Arab generating market up to July 2004, while the total number grew by an estimated 30%. Other destinations such as Dubai (+9%), Bahrain (+19%) or Jordan (+18%) also benefited from such strong demand.

Various destinations in the Mediterranean area continued the positive trend of the last quarters of 2003 drawing largely from European source markets, both mature and emerging ones, especially Russia. Egypt, where the largest market share belongs to Western and Southern Europe, saw visitors increase by 49% up to August, while receipts increased by 52% in the first half year. Likewise, international arrivals to the North African destinations of Tunisia and Morocco grew by 19% and 17% respectively and, unlike in 2003, in 2004 tourism receipts are also growing (+3% in Morocco and +15% in Tunisia up to June 2004).

In Sub-Saharan Africa, good results were obtained by Madagascar (+48%) and Uganda (+41%). Kenya saw air capacity to Europe expand and recorded 18% more arrivals at the main entry points up to August. Seychelles (-4.2%) and to a lesser extent Mauritius (-0.2%) kept struggling with the increased competition from less expensive USD peg destinations in the Caribbean or South Asia. South Africa reported rather flat results with regard to international arrivals (-0.1% up to July). Nevertheless it consolidated the increases of the same period of the previous year, in spite of the less favourable exchange rate, while receipts grew by 10 per cent up to June.

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