International tourism facing growth reversal

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, January 29, 2009 – There’s some more not so good news for tourism, one of the main foreign exchange earners for many Caribbean countries. According to a report published by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the current global economic slowdown which brought the growth of international tourism to a standstill in 2008, now threatens to reverse the historic four-year gains made by the industry in foreign travel.

Although international tourist arrivals reached 924 million in 2008, up 16 million from 2007 or a two per cent overall increase, 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 per cent decline in international travel in the six months from July, a trend that is expected to continue in 2009,” the UNWTO said.

The 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. It said 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.

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.