International travel has been rising steadily for the past six years, and 2015 was no exception. A record-breaking 1.2 billion travelers spent at least one night in an international destination last year—that’s 50 million more than in 2014, or a 4.4 percent increase—according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), which initially predicted only a three to four percent growth in 2015.
The top regions visited last year were Europe, Asia-Pacific, and the Americas—all of which received about a five percent year-over-year increase in tourism. Europe led with 609 million visits (a 29 million increase from 2014) while a reported 13 million more people traveled to Asia and the Pacific last year than in 2014. Additionally, the Americas saw an increase of nine million visitors from the year before.
Arrivals to the Middle East increased by three percent, while Africa saw a three percent decrease.The most popular destinations visited in 2015 were France, followed by the United States, Spain, and China.
(Source: UNWTO World Tourism Barometer)
“2015 results were influenced by exchange rates, oil prices, and natural and manmade crises in many parts of the world,” says UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai in a press release.
China’s tourism spending led the way in 2015—the country has had double-digit growth in spending every year since 2004. The runner up was the United States, where tourism spending went up by 9 percent; and the world’s third-largest source market was the United Kingdom, which saw a six percent lift.
While the U.N. is predicting that 2016 will have the lowest growth rate since 2009, global travel is expected to be steady with a four percent growth this year.
Unlike in 2015, the leading regional growth in 2016 is predicted to be Asia and the Pacific (up four to five percent), and the Americas (up four to five percent), followed by Europe (up 3.5 to 4.5 percent).
In the long-term, the UNWTO predicts that international tourism will average roughly a 3.3 percent increase and that by 2030 we can expect a whopping 1.8 billion people to be traveling outside of their home country.
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To read more by Olivia Briggs, follow her on Twitter @Olileibri.