International tourists hit record 1.2 billion in 2015, says UNWTO

CNN  — 

Here’s a staggering figure to consider next time you’re grumbling about the long lines at the airport check-in counter: 1.184 billion.

That’s how many tourists traveled outside their countries’ borders for at least one night in 2015, according to new record-breaking stats released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in its latest World Tourism Barometer.

It’s a rise of 4.4% – or 50 million – over 2014 and the 6th consecutive year of above-average growth, said the report.

“The robust performance of the sector is contributing to economic growth and job creation in many parts of the world,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, in a statement.

“It is thus critical for countries to promote policies that foster the continued growth of tourism, including travel facilitation, human resources development and sustainability.”

Why the continued demand?

By region, Europe, the Americas and Asia and the Pacific all recorded around a 5% increase in international arrivals in 2015, said the report.

Europe led the way, supported by a weaker euro against the U.S. dollar and other main currencies, with arrivals reaching 609 million – 29 million more than in 2014.

Asia and the Pacific, also at 5%, recorded 13 million more international tourist arrivals last year to reach 277 million, with uneven results across destinations.

International tourist arrivals in the Americas grew 9 million to reach 191 million.

“The appreciation of the U.S. dollar stimulated outbound travel from the United States, benefiting the Caribbean and Central America, both recording 7% growth,” said the report.

“Results in South America and North America (both at 4%) were close to the average.”

Arrivals to the Middle East increased by 3% while Africa (though limited data was available) experienced an estimated 3% decrease – “mostly due to weak results in North Africa, which accounts for over one third of arrivals in the region.”

All the usual factors came into play for this mixed bag of results.

Exchange rate fluctuations and drops in oil and other commodities’ prices increased disposable income in importing countries but weakened demand in exporting nations, said the World Tourism Barometer.

Increased safety and security concerns were also a factor.

So who’s traveling?

In 2015, China continued to lead global outbound travel, pouring cash into Asian destinations such as Japan and Thailand, as well as the United States and various European destinations, said the report.

“By contrast, expenditure from the previously very dynamic source markets of the Russian Federation and Brazil declined significantly, reflecting the economic constraints in both countries and the depreciation of the ruble and the real against virtually all other currencies.”

More of the same in 2016

For those hoping to enjoy less crowded flights in the months to come, sorry to break it to you. Your odds of getting a row of seats to yourself aren’t going to improve in 2016.

The UNWTO Confidence Index says that while growth will be slightly lower than in the previous two years, international tourist arrivals are predicted to increase by 4% worldwide in 2016.

By region, growth is expected to be strongest in Asia and the Pacific (4%-5%) and the Americas (4%-5%), followed by Europe (3.5%-4.5%).

“The projections for Africa (2%-5%) and the Middle East (2%-5%) are positive, though with a larger degree of uncertainty and volatility,” said the Index.