International tourist arrivals grew by over 4 percent in 2011 to 980 million, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. With growth expected to continue in 2012, at a somewhat slower rate, international tourist arrivals are on track to reach the milestone one billion mark later this year.
That growth came despite a year characterized by a stalled global economic recovery, major political changes in the Middle East and North Africa, and natural disasters in Japan, said the Barometer.
By region, Europe (up 6 percent) was the best performer, while by sub-region South-America (up10 percent) topped the ranking.
The Americas (up 4 percent) saw an increase of 6 million arrivals, reaching 156 million in total. South America, up by 10 percent for the second consecutive year, continued to lead growth. Central America and the Caribbean (both up 4 percent) maintained the growth rates of 2010. North America, with a 3 percent increase, hit the 100 million tourists mark in 2011.
"Despite persistent economic uncertainty," tourist arrivals to Europe reached 503 million in 2011, accounting for 28 million of the 41 million additional international arrivals recorded worldwide.
UNWTO forecasts international tourism to continue growing in 2012 although at a slower rate. Arrivals are expected to increase by 3 percent to 4 percent, reaching the historic one billion mark by the end of the year.
By David Wilkening