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World Tourism Organization

World tourism in 2002: Better than expected

For many, the preliminary tourism statistics for 2002 will come as a surprise. For the first time in history…

For many, the preliminary tourism statistics for 2002 will come as a surprise. For the first time in history, the number of international tourist arrivals has exceeded the 700 million mark, and despite all the grim expectations and debates about the crisis, the year ended with a 3.1 per cent increase. Tourism has once again proven its resilience.

In total, according to the preliminary data sent to the World Tourism Organization from official sources throughout the world, almost 715 million international tourist arrivals were registered last year. That is 22 million more than in 2001 or, compared with the millennium year which many experts claim should be taken as the reference, almost 19 million more than in 2000.

The results we have are credible and give a rather clear picture, says Mr. Augusto Huescar, WTO Chief of Marketing Intelligence and Promotion. He also underlines that International Tourism Arrivals (ITA) count only part of world tourism, in which domestic markets are not included. The latter has profited a great deal during tourism`s greatest crisis, especially in the United States. Data on tourism receipts are not yet available, since they require a more a complex methodology.

We can be relatively satisfied with the year 2002 and cautiously optimistic about the development of 2003, says Mr. Frangialli. The statistics did meet our expectations, in some parts of the world they even exceeded them, however we should not forget that the threats are anything but over.

We have a lot of work to do to reaffirm positive trends, but first of all, to regain consumer confidence where needed. World tourism has never before felt such a need for cooperation as now, the Secretary-General points out. Taking all the problems into account, we can all be certain that tourism is firmly on the way to recovery, back to the trends predicted in Tourism 2020 Vision, says Mr. Frangialli.

The preliminary results for 2002 show a substantial change in the world tourism map: Europe remains firmly in first place, while Asia and the Pacific claimed the number two spot from the Americas. The international arrivals to African and Middle Eastern destinations are growing slightly above the world`s average, but the base remains rather low.

All the European subregions ended 2002 with positive results. South Mediterranean Europe, with Spain, Italy and Greece, leads the way with its share of the world market exceeding 20 per cent, eclipsing Western Europe by barely half a percentage point. Germany managed to maintain the status quo with respect to 2001, the Benelux and Austria saw slight growth, and United Kingdom experienced growth of over 3 per cent. However, growth in Western Europe was below average overall, while international arrivals increased by an average of 3.9 per cent in Central and Eastern Europe. The unlucky exceptions are Poland and the Czech Republic, with a serious decline of more than 5 per cent.

More than 130 million international tourist arrivals were registered in Asia and the Pacific, which many regard as the destination of the future. Northeast Asia led all subregions with almost 12 per cent growth, followed by Southeast Asia (a bit less than 4 per cent growth), Oceania (1 per cent growth) and South Asia (2 per cent increase). This means that the WTO predictions from some years ago – namely China, together with Hong Kong and Macau, becoming an increasingly relevant tourism power — have already started to become reality. India suffered a 6.6 per cent fall, while Iran, the Maldives and Sri Lanka are doing way above average, so it seems that their strategies work.

The Americas was the only region to close 2002 in the red. But it should be noted that the decline from dramatic 2001 averages out to just below one per cent, with North America (the United States, Canada and Mexico) increasing, thanks to positive results of Canada, 0.4 per cent on 2001, which — with a fall of almost 7 per cent — was painful enough. North America still holds a decent global market share of almost 12 per cent, but this is much lower than its 14.6 per cent share in 1995. The Caribbean islands experienced a decline for the second year in the row, with a 3 per cent drop — much bigger than the 1.9 per cent decline the subregion suffered in 2001 — probably as a side effect of the problems in the US airline industry. But the damage was small compared to the 7 per cent fall in international arrivals to South America, 1.9 percentage point worse than last year`s 5.1 per cent decline. The only subregion to have enjoyed growth in Americas was Central America, almost 10 per cent, but on a rather low base compared to other subregions.

Africa offers a very different picture. While Northern Africa experienced a decrease of 4 per cent, Sub-Saharan Africa performed way above average, with an 8.5 per cent increase. The Middle East suffered an almost 4 per cent decrease in 2001, but performed extremely well, with an 11 per cent increase in 2002.

The impact of the terrorist attacks in Djerba, Bali and Mombassa

The post-September 11 syndrome has not yet been overcome, although the media sometimes tend to give it a too much importance. The picture of US tourism would namely be much more favourable if the economy performed as desired and if some large airlines and tour operators didn`t cautiously downplay capacities.

The terrorist attacks did affect tourism last year, however, rather locally and for a short time. The greatest effect was felt in Northern Africa, where the attack on a synagogue in Djerba hurt tourism all over Tunisia, as well as in other parts of Northern Africa. It is a noteworthy fact that the attack happened in spring, and thus affected the statistics for the entire year and especially the summer season. The bombing near Mombassa happened in late autumn, and it had a very limited local impact. According to the information from the travel sector and tour operators, the latter have not abandoned Kenya and the subregion.

The Bali tragedy has not tremendously affected Indonesia`s tourism statistics. However, the country still finished the year with a 2.2 per cent fall in ITAs. The island and the whole of Indonesia received a great deal of sympathy and support from all over the world, and the Indonesian government reacted immediately and very professionally, so it is expected that the impact will not last a long time.

These facts prove the thesis that the economic situation in the world is a more powerful threat to international tourism arrivals than fear of terrorism. Tourists are getting more and more experienced, although the amount of the information on war threats, images of the sites after bomb attacks and doubtful official suggestions has never before been so enormous, says WTO Secretary-General Mr. Francesco Frangialli.

Wars and tourism are completely incompatible, just like fire and water, underlines the Secretary-General. We hope the military development can be avoided. If it is not, we shall activate all possible resources we have, the Tourism Recovery Committee being the most important one, to mitigate the impact of war. The Secretary-General recalled the situation of winter 1991, when the Gulf War very negatively affected the world tourism, which grew only 1.2 per cent in that year. However, 1992 ended with an 8.2 per cent increase.

The biggest problem in the current situation of world tourism is uncertainty, says Mr. Frangialli. In addition to that, the economic situation in the world is not improving as fast as desired, oil is expensive and the stock exchanges reached low points. The tourism industry, however, rapidly reacted to the important structural changes in the sector and to the new challenges in the relationship between supply and demand.

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