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Fall in foreign tourism accelerates UN agency reports

2 July 2009International tourism shrunk by 8 per cent in the first four months of the year as the global economic crisis continued to restrict the budgets of travellers, but the pace of the decline is expected to ease later this year, according to the latest figures released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). International tourism shrunk by 8 per cent in the first four months of the year as the global economic crisis continued to restrict the budgets of travellers, but the pace of the decline is expected to ease later this year, according to the latest figures released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).Some 247 million tourist arrivals were recorded between January and April this year, compared to 269 million in the same period last year, with falls reported in every region of the world except Africa and South America.The statistics, unveiled today in the latest edition of UNWTO’s World Tourism Barometer, mean the Madrid-based agency has had to revise its forecast for 2009 and now predicts that tourist numbers will drop by between 4 and 6 per cent across the whole of the year.UNWTO said the slowdown in the global market in the latter half of 2008 only accelerated this year, with the tourism industry being hit particularly hard by economic troubles in key source markets, such as the United Kingdom.The outlook remains clouded, the agency said, given the current level of advanced bookings, the recent reduction in airline capacity and travellers’ concerns about the potential threat posed by the influenza A (H1N1) virus.Europe has been one of the hardest hit regions, with a 10 per cent slide recorded so far this year, due in part to the depreciation of the pound sterling in the UK, one of the largest sources of international tourists.The Middle East fell by 18 per cent, but UNWTO said complete figures for that region are not yet available. Tourist numbers in the Asia-Pacific region dropped by 6 per cent and in the Americas by 5 per cent. But within that, South America recorded a rise of 0.2 per cent.The best result was registered in Africa, where tourist numbers increased by 3 per cent, thanks to particularly strong demand for North African destinations and the recovery of Kenya as a destination after a decline following the deadly political violence in the East African country in early 2008.Overall, the pace of the decline is expected to soften, so that in the last four months of this year the drop may be as little as 3 per cent on 2008 figures.UNWTO continues to stress that the tourism industry is critical to resolving international economic fortunes as it is one of the largest employment sectors in most countries and can serve as a stimulus to the rest of the economy. read more