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World tourism on the rebound

MADRID, Jan 18 – Global tourism is set to rebound in 2010 after the economic crisis and the swine flu pandemic produced "one of the most difficult years" for the sector, the UN World Tourism Organisation said Monday.

"2010 will be a transformational year" for world tourism, UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai told a news conference called to present the organisation’s annual World Tourism Barometer.

The report said international tourist arrivals fell by an estimated 4.0 percent in 2009, to 880 million, but should recover to grow by 3.0 to 4.0 percent in 2010.

It said growth in the sector returned in the last quarter of 2009 contributing to better than expected full-year results, led by the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions.

"Still, 2009 is considered to be one of the most difficult years that tourism has seen" for a long time and "probably one of the toughest in the last two decades," Rifai said.

He said a slump due to the global economic crisis was "aggravated by the uncertainty around the A(H1N1) pandemic."

But he added: "The trend is bottoming out."

"The results of recent months suggest that recovery is underway, and even somewhat earlier and at a stronger pace than initially expected," said the head of the Madrid-based organisation.

But he warned that "a premature withdrawal" of stimulus measures by governments and "the temptation to impose extra taxes may jeopardise the pace of rebound in tourism."

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The UNWTO report said tourism receipts were down 6.0 percent in 2009, but noted that this compares with a 12 percent slump in overall exports as a result of the global crisis.

Rifai noted "significant growth" in domestic tourism, particularly in some large countries such as China, Brazil and Spain, in reaction to the crisis.

He said the tourist industry was "not quite over" the effects of the swine flu pandemic.

"The international community was able to deal with the crisis in a rather successful manner but the possibility of a re-occurrence is always there."

On a regional basis, he said, "Europe and North America are lagging, Asia and the Middle East are pushing ahead."

The Asia-Pacific region, where tourism was down 2.0 percent, "showed an extraordinary rebound" that is expected to continue in 2010, the UNWTO report said.

While arrivals in that region declined by 7.0 percent between January and June, the second half of 2009 saw 3.0 percent growth "reflecting regional economic results and prospects."

Arrivals were down 6.0 percent in the Middle East. But the region, "though still far from the growth levels of previous years, had a positive second half."

It said Africa had "bucked the trend" with growth of 5.0 percent, and the World Cup in South Africa this summer would give a further boost to the region.

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Europe ended 2009 down 6.0 percent "after a very complicated first half, with destinations in central, eastern and northern Europe particularly badly hit," the report said.

In the Americas, where arrivals were off 5.0 percent, the Caribbean returned to growth in the last four months of 2009.

"The performance was more sluggish in the other sub-regions (of the Americas), with the A(H1N1) influenza outbreak exacerbating the impact of the economic crisis," the report found.

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