The World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO) has recently released some figures that show how tourism is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy.
According to their data, In 2018 there were a record 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals – a rise of 6% over 2017. Although this figure includes people who make more than one trip, it means the industry is worth about £1.3 trillion, or about 2% of total global GDP.
In 1950 there were 25m international tourist visits, rising to 166m in 1970, and 435m in 1990.
The growth of budget airlines has made travelling more accessible, with passengers able to fly from London Stansted to Düsseldorf for just £7.99. For many Londoners, this costs less than a day’s commute. The rise of digital services has also been important, with review sites and online bookings helping people to travel more often.
In terms of the most popular destinations, four-fifths of tourists travel within their own region. However, Europe leads the way in overseas visits, receiving 713 million visitors last year alone. Globally, France leads the way, followed by Spain, the US, China and Italy. The UK is the seventh most visited country in the world.
Interestingly, other regions are on the rise. Last year, trips to North Africa rose 10%, and tourism to sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East is also increasing, as demand for unconventional destinations grows.
The number of tourists produced by a country tends to correlate with its income and population. China’s rising wealth has resulted in a huge growth of tourism abroad, making Chinese people the world’s most abundant tourists. In 2017, Chinese tourists made 143m journeys abroad, followed by Germany (92m), the US (87.8m) and the UK (74.2m).
According to the Office for National Statistics, UK residents consistently make more visits abroad than foreign residents make to Britain. Favoured destinations are Spain, France and Italy. Three in four Britons remain within the EU, but the US was the fourth most visited location for UK citizens last year.
Tourism is growing rapidly in Russia, whose tourist numbers rose by 16% last year. France and Australia are increasingly important players, increasing by 10% and 9% respectively.
In terms of the UK, London was the UK’s most popular destination, with more than half of all UK visits including a trip to the capital. Edinburgh was the second hottest tourist spot, and Manchester third. Americans top the list of arrivals, but four-fifths of the UK’s most-visiting countries were from Europe. The tourist industry is responsible for about 2.5% of British GDP. Last year, visitors spent almost £23bn in the UK. Visit Britain has estimated that by 2025 Britain’s tourism industry could be worth as much as 10% of GDP and will employ more than one in 10 people.
One big issue connected to these changes is the fact that some tourism hotspots around the world are struggling under the weight of “over-tourism”, which threatens massive destruction of local environments and communities. Making sure that tourism developments are sustainable will be an important part of the future of this industry.