UNWTO’s latest Tourism Barometer shows confidence in global tourism performance is starting to pick up again after slowing in late 2018

23 May, 2019

The latest issue of the World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) World Tourism Barometer has highlighted that international tourism levels are continuing to grow into 2019, albeit levels slowed during the first quarter of 2019 to a year-on-year growth rate of +4%, down on the levels recorded for the same period in 2017 and 2018. This is in line with the forecast for between+3% to +4% growth for the full year, outlined in the Jan-2019 edition.


  • International tourism levels grew +4% in 1Q 2019 according to the UNWTO, slower than in 1Q 2017 and 1Q2018, but in line with expectations;
  • The data comes from the latest issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer which provides an optimistic outlook for the next four months;
  • The Middle East lead the growth across the first quarter of 2019 with an +8% rise in international arrivals, followed by Asia and the Pacific with a +6% increase.

But, there is an optimistic outlook for the May-2019 to Aug-2019 period, the peak season for many destinations in the Northern hemisphere, with UNWTO’s Confidence Index, which comprises a panel of tourism experts, showing more than half of respondents are expecting a better performance in the coming four months. The level of optimism is the highest recorded since the same period last year.

The report is published four times a year and includes an analysis of the latest data on tourism destinations (inbound tourism) and source markets (outbound tourism). The Confidence Index provides an evaluation of recent performance and short-term prospects on international tourism.

“International tourism continues to perform strongly worldwide fuelled by a positive economy, increased air capacity and visa facilitation”, says UNWTO’s secretary general, Zurab Pololikashvili. “Growth in arrivals is easing slightly after two years of exceptional results, but the sector continues to outpace the global rate of economic growth.”

CHART - Four in five international tourists travel within their own region, with China and USA unsurprisingly heading the expenditure table for 2018Source: UNWTO World Tourism Barometer

The World Tourism Barometer shows the Middle East leading the growth across the first quarter of 2019 with an +8% rise in international arrivals, followed by Asia and the Pacific with a +6% increase. International arrivals levels in both Europe and Africa were up by +4%, and in the Americas growth was recorded at +3%, according to the report.

Europe, the world’s largest tourism region, reported solid growth (+4%), led by destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe and Central and Eastern Europe (both +5%). Growth in Africa was driven by the ongoing recovery in North Africa (+11%). In the Americas, the Caribbean (+17%) rebounded strongly after weak results in 2018, following the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria in late 2017. In Asia and the Pacific, results for the first three months showed a 6% increase led by North-East Asia (+9%) and a very solid performance from the Chinese market.

UNWTO describes the figures as “a very positive sign,” but warns that with this continued growth comes “greater responsibility for translating it into better jobs and better lives”. Mr Pololikashvili stresses: “We need to continue investing in innovation, digital transformation and education so that we can harness the many benefits tourism can bring while at the same time mitigating its impact on the environment and society with a better management of tourism flows.”

Last year total exports from international tourism reached USD1.7 trillion, according to UNWTO, almost USD5 billion a day on average. The sector (both travel and passenger transport) accounts for 29% of the world’s services exports and 7% of the overall exports of goods and services. For the seventh year in a row, growth in tourism exports (+4%) was higher in 2018 than growth in merchandising exports (+3%).