International tourist arrivals exceeded one billion for the first time last year, with the Asia-Pacific region posting the biggest increase in foreign visitors, and numbers will rise further in 2013, a UN body said today.
The number of international tourist arrivals grew by 4.0 per cent to 1.035 billion in 2012, up from 996 million in 2011, the Madrid-based United Nations World Tourism Organisation said in an annual survey.
"2012 was a year of constant economic instability in the entire world, especially in the euro zone. Despite this international tourism managed to maintain its course," the body's Secretary General Taleb Rifai told a news conference.
The organisation forecasts international tourist numbers will grow in 2013 although at a slightly lower rate of 3.0-4.0 per cent.
Global tourism figures were hit hard by the 2008 global financial crisis, with the rise in international arrivals that year slowing to 2.1 per cent after jumping 6.6 per cent in the previous year.
Arrivals plunged by 3.9 per cent in 2009, its worst performance in 60 years, as the outbreak of the swine flu virus contributed to cash-strapped consumers' decision to stay home.
But international tourism arrivals bounced back the following year, rising 6.6 per cent in 2010 and by 5.0 per cent in 2011 even though global economic crisis had not yet ended. The Asia-Pacific region posted the largest growth in visitor arrivals last year with the number of foreign tourists up by 14 million or 6.5 per cent to 233 million.
Growth in the number of foreign visitors was highest in Southeast Asia, with the number of arrivals up by 8.7 per cent over 2011.
Tourist numbers climbed 4.1 per cent in emerging economies compared with a 3.6 per cent rise in advanced economies.
The only region to report a decline in tourist numbers compared with 2011 was the Middle East with 2.0 per cent fewer arrivals because of political instability in popular tourist spots such as Egypt and Syria.
But the drop in the number of visitors to the region was smaller than the decline of 7.0 posted in 2011, the UN body said.
Asia and Africa are expected to post the greatest growth in tourist numbers this year. The agency predicts tourist arrivals will increase by 5.0-6.0 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region this year and by 4.0-6.0 per cent in Africa.
The Middle East will see the number of foreign visitors to the region rise by 0 and 5.0 per cent