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Global economic turmoil halts upward trend in foreign travel

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The current global economic slowdown brought the growth of international tourism to a standstill in 2008 and threatens to reverse the four?year gains made by the industry in foreign travel, according to a report published Wednesday by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Although international tourist arrivals reached 924 million in 2008, up 16 million from 2007 or a two percent overall increase on the year, growth stagnated in the second half of last year, hitting Europe the hardest.

The collapse of financial markets, sharp increases in commodity and oil prices and volatile exchange rate fluctuations combined to force a one percent decline in international travel in the six months from July, a trend that is expected to continue in 2009.

A three percent drop off in international arrivals across Europe after June meant the continent was the only region to experience stagnation over the whole year, reported the January 2009 issue of the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.

International travel to Asia also decreased by three percent in the second half of 2008 after double?digit growth in 2007 and a six percent increase in the first part of 2008.

On the other hand, the Americas, up one percent overall; Africa, up four percent; and the Middle East five percent; had all posted positive results in the second half of the year, although with a significant slowdown compared with the period between January and June.

The UNWTO report forecasted continued stagnation or decline for this year and beyond, but noted that the high degree of economic uncertainty makes predictions of international travel difficult.

If the economy starts to show signs of an early recovery, foreign travel might grow slightly in 2009, but if the economy deteriorates further, then the current forecast might be revised downwards.

As most of the travel to the Americas and Europe originates from countries already suffering from historically severe economic recession, UNWTO expects those two regions to be the most affected with a decline of up to two percent.

Predictions for Asia and the Pacific, on the other hand, are positive, although growth will continue to be much slower compared with the region’s performance in recent years; the same applies to Africa and the Middle East.

The UNWTO report underscored the fact that the softening of international tourism growth follows four historically strong years, with seven per cent annual growth between 2004 and 2007.

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