Tourism growth set to increase

The Middle East is expected to recover some of its losses in the tourism sector this year, with international tourism worldwide expected to reach one billion this year, the UN World Tourism Organization said.

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The number of tourists visiting the Middle East is expected to grow by up to 5 per cent this year, following an 8 per cent decline last year, a new report issued yesterday showed.

The forecast from the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) includes a prediction that the number of international tourist arrivals worldwide will reach one billion this year.

"The Middle East is forecast to start to recover part of its losses from 2011," the UNWTO said. It is projecting flat to 5 per cent tourism growth for the region.

There were an estimated 5 million fewer international tourist arrivals last year, down to 55 million, as major political changes took place in some countries in the region, the agency said.

"Nevertheless, some destinations such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE sustained steady growth." Global international arrivals reached a record 980 million last year, up 4.4 per cent on the previous year.

"International tourism hit new records in 2011 despite the challenging conditions," said Taleb Rifai, the UNWTO secretary general. "For a sector directly responsible for 5 per cent of the world's GDP, 6 per cent of total exports and employing one out of every 12 people in advanced and emerging economies alike, these results are encouraging."

Europe, with tourism arrivals up 6 per cent, was the best performing region despite its economic uncertainty.

"Contrary to previous years, growth was higher in advanced economies than in emerging ones, due largely to the strong results in Europe, and the setbacks in [parts of] the Middle East and North Africa," the report stated.

The agency said it expected international tourism arrivals to grow at a slower rate this year of between 3 to 4 per cent.