World tourism shows surprise spurt of 5.2% in Jan-Jun period

A boy, with the Ottoman-era Blue Mosque in the background, poses for a souvenir photo at Sultanahmet square in Istanbul on Aug 23, 2013. International tourist numbers surged by 5.2 per cent to nearly half a billion people worldwide in the first
A boy, with the Ottoman-era Blue Mosque in the background, poses for a souvenir photo at Sultanahmet square in Istanbul on Aug 23, 2013. International tourist numbers surged by 5.2 per cent to nearly half a billion people worldwide in the first half of 2013, beating earlier expectations, the United Nations' World Tourism Organisation said on Monday. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID (AFP) - International tourist numbers surged by 5.2 per cent to nearly half a billion people worldwide in the first half of 2013, beating earlier expectations, the United Nations' World Tourism Organisation said on Monday.

The growth was higher than expected, with 494 million international tourists spending at least one night abroad in the first six months of the year, it said in a report of preliminary results for the period.

As a result of the "robust" performance, the organisation said it was boosting its 2013 forecast. After originally tipping growth of three-four per cent for the whole year, it now expected the increase to be at the higher end of that range "or to slightly exceed it".

Europe enjoyed growth of 5.1 per cent in international tourist numbers in the six months, it said.

Asia and the Pacific reported growth of 6.2 per cent including an 11.6-per cent surge in tourists going to South-east Asia.

But results were weaker than anticipated in the Americas, which posted growth of just 2.2 per cent.

International tourist numbers grew 3.1 per cent in North America but South America reported growth of just 0.3 per cent and the Caribbean had growth of a meagre 0.1 per cent.

In Africa, international tourist arrivals rose by 3.8 per cent.

In the Middle East, tourist numbers soared by 12.9 per cent but these figures should be viewed "with caution" because of uneven results and limited data, the group said.