Global tourist numbers up 4 per cent in first half: UN

A tourist takes a picture as she visits the White Temple in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand.
A tourist takes a picture as she visits the White Temple in Chiang Rai, northern Thailand. AFP

MADRID (AFP) - The number of international tourists rose by 4 per cent worldwide during the first half of 2015 although security and health concerns hit hard some African destinations, the UN World Tourism Organisation said Thursday.

Some 538 million tourists made trips to international destinations between January and June 2015 - 21 million more compared with the same period last year, the Madrid-based body said in a statement.

"These results show that, despite increased volatility, tourism continues to consolidate the positive performance it has had over the last five years and to provide development and economic opportunities worldwide," said the organisation's head Taleb Rifai.

Global tourism figures were hard hit by the global financial crisis, declining 4 per cent in 2009 as an outbreak of swine flu also contributed to cash-strapped people staying at home but have risen in each year since.

Asia, the Middle East and Europe, the world's most visited region, all saw a 5 per cent increase in arrivals, with the Americas posting growth of 4 per cent.

But Africa saw a drop of 6 per cent.

North Africa, which was shaken by terrorist attacks in Tunisia, a popular lower-cost beach holiday spot for Europeans, saw arrivals fall by 10 per cent while sub-Saharan Africa had a decline of 4 per cent.

"Alongside the impacts of the terrorist attacks, African destinations have been impacted by the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak in a few West African countries and the slower growth of regional economies depending on the export of oil and other commodities," the tourism body said.

Tunisia's tourism industry, which had been recovering after the Arab Spring unrest, was badly shaken in March by an attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis, followed by one in June in the resort of Sousse, that killed a total of 59 tourists.

The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts international tourism arrivals will increase by 3-4 per cent during all of 2015, after expanding by 4.7 per cent last year.