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Global tourism hits new record: UN agency

International tourism grew by almost five percent in the first half of the year, recording a record 440 million arrivals, the World Tourism Organisation said Thursday.

The results show that “in spite of multiple challenges, international tourism continues to consolidate the return to growth initiated in 2010,” the UN body said in its report.

“Between January and June of this year, the total number of arrivals reached 440 million, 19 million more than in the same period of 2010,” the body said from its Madrid headquarters.

The rise of almost five percent in international tourism over the period set “a new record of 440 million arrivals,” the tourism organisation reported.

The emerging economies are the motor for this rise of the sector from the economic crisis which scarred all sectors in 2008.

These nations saw a 4.8 percent growth in their international tourism sectors.

The Middle East posted an 11 percent drop in the sector, while North Africa was down 13 percent after the “Arab spring” of popular uprisings hit the tourist sector hard.

Over the same six-month period sub-Saharan Africa continued to perform “soundly,” showing a rise of nine percent, the World Tourism Organisation said.

Asia and the Pacific grew at a comparatively slower pace of five percent, but this came after bumper 13 percent growth last year, and also includes drops in Japan’s figures following its devastating earthquake and tsunami.

“Results from recent months show that destinations such as Egypt, Tunisia or Japan are seeing declines in demand,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

“We are very encouraged to see demand picking up in such important tourism destinations and call for continued support to these countries which are today fully ready to receive travellers from all over the world,” he added.

Europe’s figures were better than expected, up six percent.

The Americas also enjoyed an overall six percent increase, thanks to “remarkably strong results” for South America where the growth was 15 percent,

Following the strong decline registered in 2009, which the tourism agency described as “one of the most challenging years for international tourism in decades,” the sector rebounded strongly in 2010.

Now following the encouraging first half figures for 2011, “growth in the remainder of the year is expected to soften somewhat as recent months have brought increased uncertainty, hampering business and consumer confidence,” the agency warned in its report.

“We must remain cautious as the global economy is showing signs of increased volatility,” said Rifai.

“Many advanced economies still face risks posed by weak growth, fiscal problems and persistently high unemployment. Simultaneously, signs of overheating have become apparent in some emerging economies. Restoring sustained and balanced economic growth remains a major task,” he added.