Lonely Planet Writer

What's the state of travel?

Every four months, the United Nations publishes the UNTWO World Tourism Barometer. It's a great snapshot of the travel industry: what's up, what's down and (if you read the numbers right) what's going to be hot.

And this time, it's got some great news for travellers.

What are the highlights for this period? Well, the main thrust is predictably gloomy: overall, world tourism fell 8% compared with the same period last year. This was in line with industry forecasts, which took into account the effects of the global financial crisis. (Here's a link to a free PDF excerpt.)

Here are some of the specific trends we're seeing, along with our take:

  • Travel to Europe fell significantly, with Central and Eastern Europe most affected. Asia and the Pacific saw smaller falls, although South Asia (including India) was more profoundly affected. As Europeans tightened their belts and reduced travel budgets, we believe that trips to more 'far-flung' destinations fell in line. In particular, visitors to India and surrounding countries often travel for long periods of time or spend lots of money per day. These behaviours are less prevalent during a recession. Though not technically experiencing recession, Australians also reduced time and money spent on international travel.
  • In the Americas, South America was the star performer - primarily by holding steady. Still affordable and offering a range of travel activities, this region is increasingly accessible by air from every continent.
  • Tourism to the Middle East fell, with political instability contributing to the drop. However, North African destinations such as Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia saw dramatic gains in travel. They contributed to an overall tourism uplift in Africa. The strength of the euro and pound against the region's currencies, as well as proximity to Europe, rendered these areas prime value-for-money destinations.

If you're a tourism operator or hotel manager, this is bad news. But if you're a traveller, this couldn't be sweeter.

Why? Think dramatic discounts on accommodation, cheaper flights, shorter queues at tourist attractions and an industry that will now go the extra mile to deserve your patronage. Around the world, we're seeing unheard-of opportunities for travel. (When's the last time you saw flights from Los Angeles to Sydney for under US$750, gorgeous London hotels for US$125 per night or such short lines at the Eiffel Tower?)

Of course, no one knows where the global economy is going in the short term. Prices could fall further, or they could recover and start climbing again. Unlike many in the travel industry, we can't guarantee that this will be the best time to travel in history.

However, if you've been harbouring a hankering for the road, we do think it's a pretty darn fantastic time to follow those dreams.