UNWTO on Europe: “An Impressive Performance”

Secretary-General Taleb Rifai outlines current tourism scenario in Europe

Europe continues to be the world´s most visited region. In 2014, Europe´s international tourist arrivals grew 4% with an additional 22 million visitors – an impressive performance in spite of the persisting economic challenges in the region. We asked Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) to tell us more about his organisation’s research.

Among subregions, Northern Europe and Southern and Mediterranean Europe led with 7% growth. With the region´s consistent growth, tourism continues to be a key sector supporting Europe´s still fragile economic recovery and create so much needed jobs.

What are the trends in terms of source markets for Europe?

Globally, traditional source markets such as France, Italy and the United Kingdom have been rebounding, which compensates for the slowdown in the emerging source markets that have been driving growth in previous years, such as the Russian Federation that declined by 6% last year, and Brazil which slowed down to 2% growth. China is still the world’s largest outbound market and spender since it topped the world rankings in 2012 and we expect this marketing to be increasingly important globally and to Europe. That said, we must always remember that 80% of all international tourists in Europe come from the region itself and that it is thus fundamental to promote intraregional tourism.


How is the industry changing to adapt to new requirements of these new Chinese visitors?

Chinese outbound travel is indeed a global phenomenon – growing from 10 million tourists in 2000 to 109 million in 2014. China is also the world´s highest spender, with a record US$129 billion in international tourism in 2013, increasing eightfold since 2000.
In response to this, many destinations around the world have taken proactive measures to attract more Chinese tourists by easing visa procedures for Chinese nationals, while hotels and luxury shops are facilitating the language barrier by introducing Mandarin-speaking staff.

Mature tourism destinations worldwide have responded by improving their visa facilitation schemes, including Australia, the UK and most recently, the United States. UNWTO welcomes these measures as they are vital to ensuring destinations can benefit from such an important and rapidly growing source market.

Which kinds of tourism are evolving the fastest and why?

Cultural tourism has been growing over recent years, particularly as this corresponds to tourists´ increasing quest for authenticity over traditional travel itineraries. This kind of tourism embraces a wide range of attractions, including gastronomy, the arts, architecture, heritage, traditions and music – elements that distinguish the tourism experience.