World tourism numbers rose 4.4% to hit a record of 1.18 billion in 2015: UN

Tourists taking pictures in front of the Merlion on Sept 17, 2015.
Tourists taking pictures in front of the Merlion on Sept 17, 2015. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

MADRID (AFP) - The number of international tourists rose by 4.4 per cent worldwide in 2015 to hit a record 1.18 billion, despite concerns over terrorism, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said on Monday (Jan 18).

Tourism arrivals were up by 5 per cent in Europe, the Asia-Pacific and the Americas, but fell by 8 per cent in North Africa, where nations like Tunisia were hit by terrorist attacks, it said in a statement.

It is the sixth-consecutive year of above average growth in global tourism since the 2009 economic crisis, the Madrid-based body said.

The UN World Tourism Organisation had predicted international tourism arrivals would increase by 3 per cent to 4 per cent in 2015, after expanding by 4.7 per cent in the previous year.

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.

Tunisia's tourism industry 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.

These attacks and others in the region came as North African and Middle Eastern countries struggle to regain the trust of holidaymakers scared off by the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the region in 2011.

"We are facing now a global threat," the head of the UNWTO Taleb Rifai told a news conference before appealing for governments to do all they can to boost security.

The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts international tourism arrivals will increase by 4 per cent during this year.