MADRID • China was again the top source country for world tourists last year, which benefited Asian destinations such as Japan and Thailand, as well as the US and Europe, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said.
Travellers from China were also the biggest spenders, posting double- digit growth in tourism expenditure every year since 2004.
By contrast, spending by Russians and Brazilians fell significantly, "reflecting the economic constraints in both countries and the depreciation of the ruble and thereal against virtually all other currencies", said the Madrid-based body in a statement on Monday.
It said the number of international tourists rose by 4.4 per cent worldwide last year to hit a record 1.18 billion despite concerns over extremist attacks.
The increase was the sixth consecutive year of above-average growth in global tourism since the economic crisis. The UN body had initially predicted international tourism arrivals would increase by 3 to 4 per cent last year.
TOP 10 MOST VISITED COUNTRIES IN 2015
1. FRANCE: 86.3m, +3% from 2014
2. UNITED STATES: 77.9m, +3.9%
3. SPAIN: 68.1m, +4.8%
4. CHINA: 56.9m, +2.3%
5. ITALY: 50.8m, +4.6%
6. TURKEY: 39.3m, -0.9%
7. GERMANY: 35m, +6.1%
8. BRITAIN: 33.9m, +4%
9. MEXICO: 32.1m, +9.6%
10. RUSSIA: 31.6m, +6.2%
Note: All figures are estimates as complete figures for 2015 are not yet available
SOURCE: United Nations World Tourism Organisation
"International tourism continues to grow strongly," UNWTO chief Taleb Rifai said, adding that last year's terrorist attacks "will not have any medium- and long-term impact" on the growth of travel.
France remained the world's most popular tourist destination, followed by the United States, Spain and China, said the UN body which tracks the number of tourists who made an overnight stay at an international destination.
"2015 results were influenced by exchange rates, oil prices and natural and man-made crises in many parts of the world," said Mr Rifai.
Europe, the world's most-visited region, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas all recorded growth of around 5 per cent in the number of international arrivals last year.
Falling oil prices reduced transport costs but weakened demand for travel in oil-exporting nations while the weakness in the euro currency made travel to Europe for Americans more attractive, he said.
In contrast, tourism arrivals to North Africa overall fell by 8 per cent last year. In sub-Saharan African they were down by 1 per cent, in part due to fears over the outbreak of Ebola.
But the sector suffered jitters over the threat of extremism, with deadly attacks in various countries including Egypt, France, Mali, Lebanon and Tunisia.
The number of global visitors to Tunisia - which was shaken by an attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis followed by one in the resort of Sousse that killed 59 tourists - fell to 5.2 million last year from 7.2 million in 2014.
"We are facing now, with regard to safety and security, a global threat," said Mr Rifai, a former tourism minister of Jordan.
"We cannot any more say this is the problem of Egypt or France or Tunisia or Turkey or Thailand or Indonesia," he added in reference to nations that suffered attacks last year claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
"We must continue to travel. We must never allow the pretext of safety and security to curb and reverse our attitude towards making this world more open."
Tourism figures were hard hit by the global financial crisis, falling 4 per cent in 2009 as an outbreak of swine flu also contributed to cash- strapped people staying at home.
But the numbers have risen each year since.
The UN body predicts global tourism arrivals will rise by 4 per cent this year, and the number of tourists who make an overnight trip abroad will hit 1.4 billion by 2020.