Global tourism down 8% says UNWTO

Worldwide tourism is suffering its biggest ever contraction, with figures so far this year suggesting a greater decline than forecast due to the recession.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reports international visitor numbers down by 8% year on year to April, and predicts a 5%-6% fall over 2008 as a whole. The UNWTO had previously forecast a 2% decline in tourism this year.

UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai told a meeting of the Tourism Society in London on Tuesday: “We are facing a very serious drop in demand.”

Latest UNWTO figures suggest a 10% fall in Europe, with outbound travel from the UK especially hard hit by the depreciation of sterling. Increasing unemployment and uncertainty about the impact of the H1N1 flu virus will make recovery before 2010 difficult, he said.

Rifai also warned: “Going back to the good old days is probably unrealistic. Governments have to understand we require policies and actions that do not hinder travel.”

Global travel and tourism has grown at about 4% a year for decades, with worldwide figures generally rising even during previous downturns in major economies.

VisitBritain chairman Christopher Rodrigues told the Society: “The most difficult time for tourism will start in the autumn. That is when the real impact will be felt.”

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