International tourism doubles in 15 years, 1.8 billion by 2030

15 February 2016 4 min. read

In 2015 the number of international tourists grew from 1.13 billion to 1.18 billion – an increase of 50 million. In the past fifteen years the number of people opting for a vacation outside their country of residence has doubled. It is estimated that the number of international tourists will hit 1.8 billion by 2030 – a near quadrupling of the numbers seen in 2000.

2015 saw international tourist numbers again increase. Recent data from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the UN arm charged with the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universal accessibility of tourism worldwide, shows that the growth in the number of international tourists last year surpassed 51 million. In 2014, tourism worldwide picked up an additional 44 million tourists. As in 2014, the lowest growth figures were in Africa and the Middle East – 2015 even saw the number of tourists visiting Africa decrease by 2 million. Tourists attracted to Europe increased significantly in 2015 – the number of travellers increased by as many as 29 million, 16 million more than the growth in the previous year.

Change in tourism per year

North & South America and Asia and the Pacific booked the largest absolute growth in tourist numbers in 2014 – both regions welcomed 14 million more tourists than in 2013. In 2015 however, the growth in tourists numbers in these regions were markedly lower – the American continent saw only 9 million more tourists than the year previous, while Asian destinations remained relatively popular, attracting 13 million more than the year previous.

Global growth
Growth in 2015 was comparable to growth over the previous years, when the number of tourists worldwide grew between 4.2% and 4.7%. Over the period 2011-2015 the year 2012 saw the strongest growth, at 4.7%. Prior to 2011, tourism growth was considerably less stable. In 2003 for instance, world tourisms numbers faced a -0.6% decrease, while a year later – in 2004 – international tourist number grew by 10.4% - the largest growth percentage in the past 20 years. In 2009, following the financial crisis, global tourism numbers fell by 4%, the biggest drop in the past two decades, but by 2010 a turnaround had taken place with global tourist growth of 6.6% booked.

Change in annual tourism per year

Economic benefits
International tourism, with its 1.18 billion participants, is a major economic driver for countries globally. According to the UNWTO, tourism accounts for 10% of global GDP, and as many as 1 in 11 jobs stems from the sector worldwide. 6% of the global exports of goods is (indirectly) related to tourism, while worldwide a whopping 30% of service exports are generated by tourism. Annually the line of business generates $1.5 trillion. “International tourism reached new heights in 2015. The robust performance of the sector is contributing to economic growth and job creation in many parts of the world. It is thus critical for countries to promote policies that foster the continued growth of tourism, including travel facilitation, human resources development and sustainability,” says Taleb Rifai, the Secretary-General of the UNWTO.

To advertise the attractiveness of their respective country to tourists, considerable amounts of money are invested into marketing and PR campaigns. The globes biggest spenders on advertising their soil are China, the United States and Germany – with respective investments of $165 billion, $112 billion and $92 billion.

Number of incoming tourists globally

For coming 15 years, the UNWTO predicts that the number of international tourists worldwide will continue to grow further. By 2020, analysts expect some 1.4 billion tourists, while 10 years later, in 2030, 1.8 billion people are projected to make an international trip. This represents 1.1 billion more than in 2000 – with an almost tripling of the 675 million tourists then recorded. However, tourism remains difficult to predict sector, Rifai stresses that: “2015 results were influenced by exchange rates, oil prices and natural and manmade crises in many parts of the world. As the current environment highlights in a particular manner the issues of safety and security, we should recall that tourism development greatly depends upon our collective capacity to promote safe, secure and seamless travel.”

The UNWTO therefore urges governments to take tourist administration into account when planning for their national security.