As Thailand sags, world travel booms
Even as tourist arrivals plummet in Thailand, International travel numbers grew 4.6% in the first half of 2014, boosted by strong growth in the rest of Asia, and in the Americas and parts of Europe, the World Tourism Organisation said Wednesday.
The number of international tourists surged to around 517 million between January and June, 22 million more than during the same time last year, the Madrid-based United Nations body said in a statement.
Meanwhile, International tourist arrivals to Thailand posted a decline of 10.7%, from January to August, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. Released late last week, the ministry reported 15,703,373 visits to the country during the first eight months, down just short of 2 million visits, from 17,576,342 over the same period last year.
"These results show that tourism is consolidating the positive performance of recent years, providing development and economic opportunities worldwide," said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.
"Despite geopolitical and economic challenges, the number of international tourist arrivals has grown by 5% a year on average since 2010, a trend that has translated into more economic growth, more exports and more jobs," he added.
Tourist arrivals rose at the fastest rate in the Americas, where numbers were up by 6%.
In Europe, the world's most-visited region, numbers continued to grow from last year, with arrivals in northern countries growing 8%.
And Asia-Pacific posted a 5% rise in tourist arrivals, with major destinations such as Japan, South Korea and Malaysia posting double-digit growth rates.
"The region has been benefiting from on-going economic growth, continuous investment in infrastructure and visa facilitation measures," the statement said.
Thailand, wracked by months of violent street protests, a military coup and, now, the grisly murder of two British backpackers on Koh Tao, will fall far short of the ministry's original target of 28 million foreign visitors and 2 trillion baht in tourism-related income.
The ministry's permanent secretary, Suwat Sidthilaw, said the year would close with 25.5 million visits and 1.8 trillion in tourism related revenue.
While Thailand backs off on plans to expand its main international airport, other Asian nations are rushing to build hundreds of new airports to cope with surging demand from a fast-growing middle class for air travel in the region.
Business consultancy Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific predicts over 350 new airports will be built in the Asia-Pacific region over the next ten years at a cost of over $100 billion.
In 2013, the number of international tourist arrivals grew by five per cent from the previous year to 1.09 billion and the UN body expects the figure will grow again by 4.0-4.5% this year.