International tourism numbers this year are unlikely to be "substantially" affected by the unrest in parts of the Middle East, despite a 14 per cent drop in the region's arrivals in the first four months of the year, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The travel and tourism body is predicting growth of between 4 and 5 per cent in international arrivals this year compared with last year, as the global industry continues its rebound after the sector was battered by the global economic crisis.
"The impact of developments in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March, are not expected to substantially affect this overall forecast," the UNWTO said in its latest annual report. It added it "expects that destinations currently facing difficulties will see demand recover towards the end of the year".
Along with the decline in the Middle East, there was an 11 per cent decline in tourism in North Africa, while all other world regions experienced growth in the first four months of the year compared with the same period last year, the UNWTO's latest figures showed. This resulted in 4.5 per cent growth in tourism arrivals globally.
The report also highlighted China was rapidly becoming a bigger player in the global tourism industry, with the Chinese last year overtaking the UK to become the third-biggest international tourism spenders. The Chinese travellers spent US$55 billion (Dh202bn), behind Germany and the US, respectively. Spending by Russians was up 27 per cent last year, following a 12 per cent drop in 2009. The UK, meanwhile, was the only market in the top 10 to show a decline in tourism expenditure, with a 2 per cent fall because of its weak economy, the UNWTO said.
International tourism arrivals last year increased by 6.6 per cent from the previous year to 940 million.
"The increase more than offset the decline caused by the economic downturn, with an additional 23 million arrivals over the former peak year of 2008." International tourism receipts reached $919bn worldwide last year, up from $851bn in 2009. Spending is still down from the 2008 peaks of $939bn, however.
The UNWTO highlighted tourism as "a key driver of socio-economic progress through the creation of jobs and enterprises, infrastructure development and the export revenues earned". It said tourism's contribution to worldwide GDP was about 5 per cent and the industry indirectly and directly created an estimated 6 to 7 per cent of all jobs globally.
The Middle East was the fastest-growing region last year in terms of tourism arrivals, with a 14 per cent increase, following a 4 per cent decline the previous year.
Last year, most destinations in the region reported double-digit growth, including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, the organisation said.
This year, however, the story has been quite different. Those countries have reported sharp declines in tourism because of unrest in parts of the region.
Travel flows have been diverted and hoteliers in stable destinations, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, reported increased guest numbers.
Last year, 51 per cent of people travelled for leisure, the report showed. Another 27 per cent travelled for purposes including religious trips. Fifteen per cent were business travellers.