Tourism, widely seen as a barometer of global economic health, sees a slowdown, the World Tourism Organization says in a report.

Tourists sunbathe in El Arenal beach in the island of Mallorca, Spain, August 11, 2018.
Tourists sunbathe in El Arenal beach in the island of Mallorca, Spain, August 11, 2018. (Reuters)

The rise in the number of international tourist arrivals slowed to 4.0 percent in 2019, its slowest rate since 2016 due to a cooling global economy, geopolitical tensions and uncertainty regarding Brexit, the World Tourism Organization said on Monday.

The Madrid-based UN body, UNWTO, predicted global tourism will grow by 3.0-4.0 percent this year, buoyed by major sporting and cultural events such as the Tokyo Olympics in Japan.

The number of international tourist arrivals hit 1.5 billion last year, up from 1.4 billion in 2018, the body said in a statement.

Tourist numbers grew by 6.0 percent in 2018, 7.0 percent in 2017 and by 4.0 percent in 2016.

"The slowdown in linked to the results of the global economy, with economic growth of around 3.0 percent," UNWTO's market intelligence chief, Sandra Carvao, told a news conference.

She said "strong uncertainty around" Britain's looming exit from the European Union, simmering geopolitical tensions and the collapse of Thomas Cook, the world's oldest travel firm, had also contributed to the slowdown.

But Carvao stressed that both 2017 and 2018 had posted exceptionally high rates of tourism growth.

"What is happening is we are returning to historical levels of tourism growth," she said.

Europe and the Asia-Pacific region were the most affected by the slowdown in tourism arrivals.

Arrivals rose by 4.0 percent in Europe in 2019, down from 6.0 percent in 2018, while in Asia-Pacific arrivals rose by 5.0 percent compared to 7.0 percent in 2018 as ongoing protests in Hong Kong weighed the sector down.

Africa posted a 4.0-percent rise in tourist arrivals, down from 9.0 percent in 2018.

The Middle East was the one bright spot as tourist arrivals in the region jumped by 8.0 percent in 2018, up from 3.0 percent in the previous year, due mainly to Saudi Arabia's ambitious plan to draw foreign visitors.

UNWTO expects France, Spain and the United States to once again be the three most visited countries in the world last year once it has final figures.

"We don't really expect changes in the rankings," said Carvao.

In 2018, France remained the world's most visited nation with 89 million arrivals followed by Spain and the United States.

Source: AFP