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2018 Destination Trends: Robust Growth Continues Worldwide

December 3, 2018

2018 will soon come to a close, and several groups recently released reports on the year’s trends as well as deep dives into 2017 year-end data. There is much to celebrate—the volume of travelers, and the revenue they generate, is still strong.

“International tourism arrivals worldwide have grown faster than some destinations can keep up with during the last decade,” writes Dan Peltier in a piece about the World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) most recent World Tourism Barometer. Updated throughout the year, the report looks at both inbound and outbound tourism. The October release analyzes January through June 2018 data, which “confirm the positive trend seen in international tourist arrivals, with particularly strong results in Asian and European destinations.”

The UNWTO estimates that there were 641 million international tourist arrivals across the globe in the first half of 2018. That’s “37 million more than in the same period of 2017.” The report notes, “International tourist arrivals grew 6% in the first six months of 2018 compared to the same period last year, reflecting a continuation of the strong results of 2017.”

The UNWTO also released its annual tourism highlights report this fall, which reviews year-end data from 2017. In addition, in October the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) announced the 2017 impact of 72 cities on tourism. As Phil Davies writes in a Travel Weekly piece on the report, “the world’s most important tourism cities together generated more than a [US]$625 billion contribution to GDP last year.”

Every Region Sees Increases—Some Large, Some Small

“All world regions enjoyed robust growth fueled by strong demand from major source markets and supported by an upswing in the global economy,” states the UNWTO Barometer. The largest growth in arrivals was in Europe and APAC, each seeing a 7% increase in the first six months of 2018.  Growth in other regions for the same time period:  Middle East – 5%, Africa – 4%, and the Americas – 3%.

Europe: In a series of articles on UNTWO’s regional data, ITB Asia News reports, “Travel demand increased from virtually all Europe’s source markets, both inside and outside the region, fuelling inbound growth across Europe.”  Overall, Southern Mediterranean Europe led the region in both arrivals and receipts. Western Europe’s top-destination, France, all destinations in Northern Europe and the majority of Central and Eastern European countries saw solid growth.

What’s influencing Europe’s growth? Turkey’s recovery, demand from the Russian Federation and the value of the British pound.

Asia: The 7% increase in tourists for the first half of 2018 is an indication that Asia should see another strong year-over-year increase for all of 2018. Southeast Asia had the largest growth (8.6%) of the Asian subregions in 2017, representing nine million more international visitors. Impressive double-digit growth rates for several countries, including Vietnam, Brunei, Myanmar and Cambodia were also major factors in growth.

The WTTC’s City Travel & Tourism Impact 2018 found that five of the top ten cities in terms of market size were in Asia. Shanghai was number one with US$35 billion in tourism. Beijing (number two at US$32.5 billion) Tokyo, Bangkok and Shenzhen rounded out the list.

What’s influencing Asia’s growth? Increased intraregional and Western market demand, easier visa processes, greater infrastructure development and improved airline connections.

Africa: The region’s international tourist arrivals increased by 4% in the first six months of 2018.  As far as 2017 growth, the Sub-Saharan subregion saw strong growth in several locations, including Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Island destinations with the most significant growth in arrivals were Seychelles, Cabo Verde and Reunion.

What’s influencing Africa’s growth? North Africa’s economic recovery, increased European demand, greater regional stability and increased airline connections to African island nations.

Middle East: As a whole, the region experienced a 4.6% increase in tourists from January through June, which is the same rate of growth for 2017. Last year, some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, saw declines, while Egypt rebounded strongly from previous years with a 55.1% increase in arrivals from 2016 to 2017. Palestine, Bahrain, and Jordan also regained ground in 2017.

What’s influencing the Middle East’s growth? Increased consumer confidence, tourism organization’s promotional efforts and visitors from emerging markets.


The Americas region saw the slowest growth for the first half of 2018 at 3.3% (compared to 4.8% for 2017). UNTWO reports that last year’s growth in North American international arrivals was helped by Mexico’s increase and regional travel by US tourists.

Last year, several South American countries saw large increases in arrivals, including Uruguay and Colombia, while Nicaragua had the biggest growth in Central America. For the Caribbean, 2017 was difficult with a very active hurricane season in the latter half of the year. Overall, the area had a modest increase in arrivals (2.9%), but the swings from one island to another were quite dramatic, likely a factor of the storms’ paths.

What’s influencing the America’s growth? Brazil’s rebound, intraregional travel demand, Uruguay’s tax-free benefits and US consumer spending.

Looking To Year-End & Beyond

The UNWTO predicts global tourism will have “a strong finish to 2018, albeit at a slower growth rate than the first half of the year.”

VisitBritian predicted continued growth for 2018 with a forecast of “40.9 million visits in 2018, an increase of 4.4% on 2017,” which is a growth rate similar to that of the past five years.

According to US Travel’s six-month Leading Travel Index (LTI), domestic travel is expected to grow at a rate of 2.6 percent through 2019. “Worryingly, international travel is only expected to grow at a rate of 0.6 percent in the same period.”

Chinese cities will continue to lead, although a slowdown in growth is expected,” says Travel Weekly. “With the exception of Marrakech, the cities in the top ten ranking of fastest growing travel and tourism GDP in the coming decade are in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Writing for, Eric Rosen notes, “Four out of five tourists traveled within their own region. So as regions like Asia and Africa further develop their tourism sectors and infrastructures, we should see their numbers balloon in the coming years, both in terms of visits and spending.”

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