Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Madrid — The number of international tourist arrivals rose 6% last year to 1.4-billion, according to an estimate published  on Monday by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).

The increase was driven by travel to southern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the Madrid-based UN body, citing economic growth and technological advances as boosting factors.

Although arrivals to the Americas grew only by a modest 3% — with 4% for North America — Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific performed strongly, with respective rises of 6%, 7% and 6%. 

WTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili welcomed the strong results as showing that tourism is “one of the most powerful growth motors” for international development.


Total arrivals to Europe were 713-million but the WTO noted that arrivals in northern Europe were flat in 2018,  citing uncertainty over Britain’s impending exit from the EU.

Closer focus on data for Africa, which welcomed 67-million visitors in total, saw the north of the continent register 10% growth in arrivals staying at least overnight.

Sub-Saharan arrivals were up 6%. Middle Eastern arrivals rose 10% to 64-million.

The WTO said overall solid economic growth, more broadly accessible air travel on lower fuel prices and more efficient processing of visas had all contributed to the rise. It notably cited better air connections in two substantial developing markets, India and Russia.

At the same time it noted some investors as well as travellers were adopting a “wait-and-see” attitude in considering geopolitical uncertainty stemming from issues such as the US trade war with China as well as the fallout from Brexit.

The WTO predicted a global overall increase of 3% to 4% for 2019, broadly in line with historical trends.