Global tourism surges, but receipts remain flat

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LONDON -- Global tourism surpassed industry expectations in the first eight months of the year, as worldwide arrivals grew 12% to 526 million, according to World Travel Markets annual global travel report.

But while international arrivals have surged in 2004, visitor spending has remained flat, according to Rolf Freitag, president and CEO of IPK International, one of several consultancies and tourism groups contributing data to the report.

While the report forecasts an 8% rise in international tourism arrivals for the full year and a 4%-5%% increase in 2005, the lag in spending is expected to persist. The report cited the trend toward shorter and more frequent trips, fuelled in part by the growth of low cost carriers.

Also participating in a panel discussion on the report was Dawid de Villiers, deputy secretary general of the World Tourism Organization, who predicted a 10% boost in global arrivals in 2004, fueled in part by the availability of low cost travel. WTO expects this year to end with double-digit growth, marking the first time since the last major oil crisis 20 years ago, said de Villiers.

Meanwhile, the WTM report states that the biggest challenge foreign destinations face in tapping the U.S. market is that 80% of the population does not hold passports.

Nevertheless, Rob Franklin, executive director, European Travel Commission, predicted the U.S. market will remain the number one market for Europe in 2005. The US public is travelling like never before, said Franklin, citing a 15% increase in arrivals in European cities for the first half of the year.

Within Europe, the strongest destinations in the first eight months of 2004 were Spain and Russia, each with 10% growth over the same period a year earlier. Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy recorded increases between 6% and 10%, while France, Germany and the U.K. rose between to 2% and 5%. Switzerland and Austria saw modest declines.

Elsewhere in the world, 2004 tourism levels portend a positive sign for regions battered by the events of the previous year.

Rebounding from a depressed 2003, the Asia Pacific region recorded the most growth this year, up 37% to 99 million international arrivals. In the Middle East, arrivals were up by nearly a quarter to 23 million visitors. Arrivals to Africa rose by 9% to two million.

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