If the beaches seem a little less crowded in the last couple of years, don’t be too surprised. International tourism took a knock during the global recession, as our charts show, with annual growth slipping to just 1.9% in 2008, or 5.2 percentage points lower than the growth rate registered during the previous four years. By the time figures for 2009 are finalised, they may show an actual decline of over 4%. That’s to be expected: International travel tends to respond quite sharply to economic slowdowns, while domestic tourism (people holidaying in their own countries) is more resilient. In OECD countries, about three out of four tourists are domestic. There have been some signs of growth in the first half of 2010, though whether this spells a recovery or reflects a particularly weak 2009 remains to be seen.
Despite any recent declines, tourism remains one of the world’s great growth industries. According to the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, just 25 million people travelled abroad for holidays in 1950. Today, the figure is more than 800 million, representing an annual growth rate of about 6.5%.
Just as it’s been for the past 15 years, France remains the world’s favourite destination, attracting just under 80 million visitors in 2008 (the most recent year for which full data is available). The United States is second, with about 58 million visitors from abroad, while Spain is third, with just over 57 million.