International visitor arrivals continue to rise, but spending is more important to cities than it is to countries

16 December, 2019

International tourist arrivals grew by a further +4% across the first nine months of 2019, the latest issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer indicates. Tourism’s growth continues to outpace global economic growth, and generating USD1.7 trillion in annual revenues is the third largest export category behind fuels (USD2.4 trillion) and chemicals (USD2.2 trillion).

The latest statistics continue to highlight the huge potential for travel and tourism to deliver development opportunities across the world but also to the sustainability challenge that will be at the heart of its future.

Destinations worldwide received 1.1 billion international tourist arrivals in the first nine months of 2019 (up 43 million compared to the same period of 2018), according to the latest analysis. But, the global economic slowdown, rising trade, geopolitical tensions and prolonged uncertainty around Brexit “weighed on international tourism,” says the report with a more moderate pace of growth visible in the data during the summer peak season in the northern hemisphere (July-September).

International tourism accounts for 29% of the world’s services exports and 7% of overall exports. In some regions these proportions exceed the world average, especially the Middle East and Africa where tourism represents over 50% of services exports and about 9% of exports overall.

The world’s top ten earners saw mixed results in international tourism receipts through Sep-2019, according to the barometer, with Australia (+9%), Japan (+8%) and Italy (+7%) posting the highest growth, while China, the United Kingdom and the United States recorded declines. Mediterranean destinations were among the strongest performers in terms of earnings, both in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa region.

Growth in arrivals during the first nine months of 2019 was led by the Middle East (+9%), followed by Asia and the Pacific and Africa (both +5%), Europe (+3%) and the Americas (+2%). Europe’s pace of growth slowed down to 3% in January-September this year, from double that rate last year. Also slower than last year, although still above the global average, growth in Asia and the Pacific (+5%) was led by South Asia (+8%), followed by South-East (+6%) and North-East Asia (+5%), while Oceania showed a +2% increase.

A further report from The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which represents the global travel and tourism private sector, has revealed cities account for USD691 billion in travel and tourism GDP and over 17 million jobs. The ‘Cities Report for 2019’ says international visitor spending is “more important to cities than it is to countries”.

With more than half (55%) of the world’s population living in urban areas – due to increase to 68% over the next 30 years – cities have become the “hubs for global economic growth and innovation, while also attracting more people who want to live and do business,” it explains.

The report focuses on 73 major tourism city destinations which represent 25% of the sector’s direct global GDP. In 2018, it says, GDP across the cities, grew by +3.6%, above the overall city economy growth of +3.0%.

“Cities are an essential part of the travel and tourism sector, both culturally and economically, and their significance is set to increase over time. Achieving sustainable growth in cities requires reaching far beyond the sector itself, and into the broader urban agenda,” says Gloria Guevara, president & CEO, WTTC.

The WTTC report reveals all but one of the ten global cities with the highest direct travel and tourism growth over the past decade, are in emerging and developing countries, where infrastructure development and prioritisation of tourism, has been a key growth driver. This will continue into the next ten years with between 2018-2028 all ten expected to come from emerging and developing countries, including Morocco, India, Vietnam and Indonesia.

According to the report, cities with an overreliance on domestic or international demand are more exposed to economic and geopolitical shocks. Some large Brazilian and Chinese cities which are highly reliant on domestic demand, “could be exposed to changes in the domestic economy,” it warns.

Those that are more reliant on international demand and/or particular source markets, may be vulnerable to external disruptions, while, a high degree of seasonality can also, at times put pressure on infrastructure, due to the heightened demand during a narrow timeframe,” it adds.