Terror attacks on destinations show little sign of slowing global tourism growth, says World Travel and Tourism Council president David Scowsill, who spoke to Ian Taylor

Growth in travel and tourism outpaced economic development in more than two out of three countries last year, with the sector growing at 3.7% and adding more than seven million jobs.

The World Travel and Tourism Council’s Economic Impact Report 2016 forecasts average annual growth of 4% over the next 10 years in a sector which already employs one in 11 of the world’s workforce.

WTTC president and chief executive David Scowsill said: “The industry performed really well in 2015 despite the terror and Zika-related impacts. People are incredibly resilient about travel. Even Americans are more robust [about travelling] than 15-20 years ago.”

He said: “The negative impacts are regionally specific. There is a movement away from centres hit most recently – from Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt to Spain, Italy and Greece. But we’re not seeing a drop in bookings [overall]. We keep an eye on GDS bookings and don’t see any fall-off in demand.”

Scowsill added: “Attacks aimed at tourists take longer to recover from than randomly executed attacks not aimed at tourists.”

However, the WTTC is concerned at a move to impose border controls by some countries in Europe. Scowsill said: “There are five or six EU countries putting up border controls because of the migration issue. Germany has already absorbed one million refugees and pressure on its borders is increasing. We don’t want governments to reverse out of relaxing visa-waiver programmes.”

WTTC members meet at their annual global summit in Dallas today and Scowsill said: “Our key message to governments is ‘Don’t panic. Don’t block travel. Ensure progress toward electronic visa-waiver programmes.”

He foresees no slowdown in the explosive growth of travel and tourism in China. The WTTC reports Chinese outbound tourism spending hit $215 billion in 2015, up 53% year on year, and Scowsill said: “Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecasts outbound numbers will reach 174 million and spending abroad $264 billion by 2017 – though I think that is an underestimate.

“The Chinese are the biggest outbound travel spenders. Three Chinese airlines are now in the top 10 in the world by volume. The number of airports has risen from 175 to 230.

“Some of the big Chinese companies are making huge investments around the world. [But] the outbound market is only a small piece of this – 90% of Chinese travel is domestic.”

The WTTC is somewhat less upbeat about the prospects for Britain although the country showed healthy growth outbound and inbound last year.

One reason is Air Passenger Duty (APD) which the Chancellor failed to mention in his budget last month. Scowsill said: “We’ve talked with the Chancellor’s group [of advisors] on many occasions about APD. It is very disappointing the Chancellor has done nothing.”

The possibility of a British exit (Brexit) from the EU is a second reason. Scowsill said: “We’ve not fully evaluated the impact, but most of our members would probably vote for the status quo. Anything that creates uncertainty is unwelcome.”