There Were One Billion Tourists Last Year


“I am a passenger on the spaceship Earth.”
― Richard Buckminster Fuller

Good old Buckminister had a way of pairing down the extraneous to visualize the simple. What would he say now that a billion of us are passengers while being passengers on spaceship Earth? And where are we all going on the gerbil wheel of travel?

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) says 2012 set a new eyebrow-raising travel record with 1.035 billion tourists traveling internationally last year, up 39 million from 2011. That’s an increase of 4%. (No stat on how many used award travel.) Many of the increased numbers are coming from Asia and the Pacific regions. The hot destination is Europe.

UNWTO says international arrivals to Europe were up 3% to hit the 535 million mark. Central and eastern Europe showed the biggest increases in travelers. Asia and the Pacific arrivals were up by 7% with 233 million international tourists. The Americas grew as a destination by 6 million visitors, hitting a total of 162 million travelers. Within the Americas, Central America grew in popularity, even over South America. In the Middle East, where the Arab spring and other issues caused the numbers to yaw like an airplane, arrivals hit 53 million, followed closely by Africa arrivals hitting a new record of 52 million.

Top destinations that showed the highest increase of arrivals were Hong Kong, the USA, the UK and Germany. But the best percentage increases were in Japan, India, South America, Sweden, Korea, Thailand and Poland.

The UNWTO website quotes its Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, remarking that “2012 saw continued economic volatility around the globe, particularly in the Eurozone. Yet international tourism managed to stay on course. The sector has shown its capacity to adjust to the changing market conditions and, although at a slightly more modest rate, is expected to continue expanding in 2013. Tourism is thus one of the pillars that should be supported by governments around the world as part of the solution to stimulating economic growth.”

Not surprisingly, the biggest growth was in emerging economies.


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