Lonely Planet Writer

Tourism is already booming in 2017 according to the latest figures

2017 has started with a huge boost for worldwide tourism, according to new figures released from the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

Gergeti, Georgia
Europe’s tourism numbers rebounded this year. Image by Fotokon/Shutterstock

International tourist arrivals rose 6% worldwide in January to April this year compared to the same period in 2016. Overall, 369 million people have stayed overnight in a foreign country, a rise of 21 million.

Every region experienced growth so far this year with the Middle East leading the way at 10% after a 4% drop in international tourists in 2016. Their growth was followed by Africa at 8%, while Northern Africa had a huge increase of 18% overall, though the UNWTO warns there can be limited data from the continent.

International visitors to the Americas grew by 4% while both Europe and Asia-Pacific saw growth of 6%. The strong results in Europe are seen as hugely positive for the region which, despite having the most international visitors in 2016, experienced some negative results last year due to security concerns.

Hagia Sophia interior in Istanbul, Turkey,
After a decline in numbers last year, the Middle East region show strong growth early this year. Image by Artur Bogacki/Shutterstock

“Destinations that were affected by negative events during 2016 are showing clear signs of recovery in a very short period of time”, said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai in a statement. “This is very welcoming news for all, but particularly for those whose livelihoods depend on tourism in these destinations.”

Normally, January-April represents approximately 28% of the yearly tourism numbers and the UNWTO is confident the peak months of May to August will see similarly positive results. They’ve been tracking tourism numbers every four months since 2003, and evaluated the first four months of the year as being the strongest since they began keeping records.

Victoria Falls World Heritage National Monument Site
Northern Africa had one of the strongest region growth. Image by Emma Shaw/Lonely Planet

While the UNWTO promotes tourism as a driver of economic prosperity and stability, it named 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. “Growth is never the enemy and it is our responsibility to manage it in a sustainable manner”, said Taleb Rifai. “We welcome the continued development of tourism and recall that with growth comes increased responsibility to ensure tourism can contribute to sustainability in all its three pillars – economic, social and environmental.”