Spain nudges U.S. out of 2nd place in world arrival numbers

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. fell to third place in international tourism arrivals in 1998 for what was said to be the first time since the World Tourism Organization began tracking the statistics in 1980.

Spain knocked the U.S. out of the No. 2 spot, with 47.7 million visitors to the U.S.'s 47.1 million. France stayed in first place.

Spain's arrivals jumped 10%, more than four times the world average, thanks to the strong British pound and the country's proximity to the World Cup in France and the World's Fair in Portugal, the WTO said.

Meanwhile, U.S. arrivals fell 1.3% because of fewer tourists from Asia, Mexico and Canada. The WTO and the Travel Industry Association placed the blame for the U.S. downturn partly on the lack of a functioning national tourism organization.

Countries with a central body coordinating promotion can be more flexible in adapting to changes in world conditions, as Australia did in shifting its marketing efforts from Asia to Europe and the U.S., WTO spokeswoman Deborah Luhrman said.

WTO figures for 1998 also showed international tourism overcame the economic troubles in Asia to post a 2.4% gain to 625 million arrivals in 1998. Tourism receipts, excluding air fares, grew 2%, to nearly $445 billion.

Other WTO findings:

  • In East Asia and the Pacific, arrivals fell 1.2%, and revenue fell nearly 4%.
  • Africa's arrivals jumped 7.5%, thanks to solid increases in nature-based tourism to southern Africa and European beach travel to northern Africa.
  • Middle East arrivals climbed 5.3%, led by Jordan and Lebanon.
  • Europe grew 3% in arrivals and 3.6% in receipts.
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