INTERNATIONAL touristm grew seven percent in 2017, the highest in seven years, according to the latest United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) World Tourism Barometer.

Some 1.3 billion have traveled around the world and this strong momentum is expected to continued this year at a rate of four percent to five percent.

“This is well above the sustained and consistent trend of four percent or higher growth since 2010 and represents the strongest results in seven years,” said the UNWTO, in a statement.

Europe led the list with eight percent more international arrivals than in 2016. Arrivals to this continent reached 671 million last year.

Africa consolidated its 2016 rebound with an eight percent increase. It reached a record 62 million international arrivals.

Asia and the Pacific recorded six percent growth. It welcomed a total of 324 million international tourist arrivals last year. Arrivals in south Asia grew 10 percent and in southeast Asia at eight percent.

Foreign tourists to the Middle East grew five percent with 58 million arrivals while the Americas at three percent with 207 million international tourist arrivals.

“2017 was characterized by sustained growth in many destinations and a firm recovery in those that suffered decreases in previous years. Results were partly shaped by the global economic upswing and the robust outbound demand from many traditional and emerging source markets, particularly a rebound in tourism spending from Brazil and the Russian Federation after a few years of declines,” said the UNWTO report.

The current strong momentum is expected to continue in 2018, though at a more sustainable pace after eight years of steady expansion following the 2009 economic and financial crisis.

Based on current trends, economic prospects and the outlook by the UNWTO panel of experts, UNWTO projects international tourist arrivals worldwide to grow at a rate of four percent to five percent this year.

The figure is above the 3.8 percent average increase projected for the 2010 to 2020 by UNWTO in its Tourism Towards 2030 long-term forecast.

Europe and the Americas are both expected to grow by 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent, Asia and the Pacific by five percent to six percent, Africa by five percent to seven percent and the Middle East by four percent to six percent.

“International travel continues to grow strongly, consolidating the tourism sector as a key driver in economic development. As the third export sector in the world, tourism is essential for job creation and the prosperity of communities around the world.” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, in a statement. (KOC)