5% global tourism growth in 2018

International tourist arrivals grew 5% in 2018, to reach 1.4 billion, two years ahead of the World Tourism Organisation’s long-term forecasts, according to the UNWTO International Tourism Highlights, 2019 Edition. These trends may also affect global medical travel flows.

Key findings in the report include:

  • There are 1.4 billion international tourists
  • International tourism spending is US$1.7 billion, an increase of 4%, outpacing the world economy in 2018
  • Daily international tourism spending reached US$5 million
  • 4 out of 5 tourists travel within their own region
  • China is the world’s largest spender
  • 48% of tourists are European

In addition to the US$1.5 trillion in receipts that destinations earned, international tourism generated another US$256 billion from international passenger transport by non-residents.

27% of total visits are for visiting family and friends, religion, health and other non business or holiday travel. There is no breakdown within these numbers for health or medical tourism. Further confusion is that wellness holidays and some medical travel are included in normal holiday tourism analysis.

The report states that 2018 was the ninth consecutive year of sustained growth and tourism now represents 7% of global exports, growing at a faster rate than merchandise exports for the last seven years.

These growth results were driven by a favourable economic environment, a growing middle class in emerging economies, technological advances, new business models, increased air capacity, affordable travel costs and visa facilitation.

UNWTO has stated it is committed to ensuring that this continued growth is managed in a responsible and sustainable way and tourism is seen as a key driver of social and economic development, job creation and equality.

Other findings from the UNWTO International Tourism Highlights 2019:

  • Asia, the Pacific and Africa led growth in arrivals with a 7% increase in 2018, while Asia and the Pacific and Europe enjoyed above-average growth in tourism earnings.
  • Within the world’s top 10 destinations in arrivals and receipts, France continued to lead in international tourist arrivals, while the USA remained the largest tourism earner in 2018. Japan entered the top 10 earners ranking following seven years of double-digit growth in international tourism receipts.
  • The top 10 tourism earners account for almost half of total tourism receipts, while the top 10 destinations in arrivals receive 40% of worldwide arrivals.
  • China remained the world’s largest spender, with US$277 billion spending on international tourism in 2018 or one-fifth of international tourism expenditure, followed by the USA.
  • 4 out of 5 tourists visit a destination in their own region.
  • 58% of all international tourists arrive to their destinations by air. The share of air travel has increased from 46% in 2000 to 58% in 2018.
  • The share of leisure travel has grown from 50% in 2000 to 56% in 2018. Leisure travel is the main purpose of visit in all world regions except the Middle East, where visiting friends and relatives, or for health or religious purposes predominates.
  • The share of world population requiring a traditional visa declined from 75% in 1980 to 53% in 2018.
  • European travel is facilitated by visa exemptions. But while Europeans willingly leave their country, they don’t often leave their continent.
  • Four out of five tourists are content to visit a country bordering the one they live in.