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International tourist arrivals grew by 4.3% in the first four months of 2013 to reach a total of 298 million, up from 286 million, despite a challenging global economic environment.

Results were positive in all regions, with the strongest growth in Asia and the Pacific (+6%), Europe (+5%) and the Middle East (+5%) and weaker growth in the Americas (+1%) and Africa (+2%).

12By subregion, South-East Asia (+12%), South Asia (+9%) and Central and Eastern Europe (+9%) were the star performers.

“International tourism continues to show an extraordinary dynamism” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai. “The 4.3% growth in the number of international tourists crossing borders in the first months of 2013 confirms that tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of our times, contributing in a central manner to the economy of a growing number of countries” he added.

Emerging economies growing faster

Growth was stronger in emerging economy destinations (+4.6%) as compared to advanced economies (+3.3%), a trend which has marked the sector for many years now. By region, growth was positive in all regions, but results where rather mixed.

Asia and the Pacific (+6%) saw the highest relative growth boosted by arrivals in South-East Asia (+12%) and South Asia (+9%).

International tourist arrivals to Europe, the most visited region in the world, were up by 5%; an excellent result in view of the economic situation in the region. Central and Eastern Europe (+9%) continues to lead growth, while Southern and Mediterranean Europe (+5%) also turned in strong results.

Africa (+2%) and the Americas (+1%) reported a rather weak growth in the first four months of 2013, though following the strong progress of 2012 (+6% and +5%, respectively). At the subregional level, results were rather flat in all subregions of the Americas except in Central America (+4%). In Africa, the 3% growth in Subsaharan Africa contrasts with even results in North Africa.

Growth in the Middle East is estimated at 5%, though this figure should be taken with caution as it is based on still rather limited available data.

435 million tourists expected to travel abroad during the tourism peak season 

Prospects remain positive for the period May-August, the Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. Around 435 million tourists are expected to travel abroad during these four months which account for as much as 40% of all international tourist arrivals registered in a year. The pace of growth might slow somewhat, as shoulder seasons tend to show faster growth than the peak season.

International air travel reservations for May-August from business intelligence tool Forwardkeys support this outlook with a 4% increase in bookings for that period. The highest growth is recorded in international flight reservations from Africa and the Middle East (+7%) and the Americas (+5%), followed by Europe (+3%) and Asia and the Pacific (+2%).

This outlook is confirmed by the UNWTO Panel of Experts Confidence Index survey which shows sustained confidence for this period, though with variations by region and activity. Confidence picked up significantly in Europe, the Middle East, among Global operators, tour operators and travel agencies. On the other hand, confidence decreased among experts in Asia and the Pacific, the Americas and Africa, as well as among experts in the transport industry.

For the full year of 2013, international tourist arrivals are expected to increase by 3% to 4% in line with UNWTO’s long-term forecast of 3.8% per year for the period 2010 to 2020.