Avantika Chilkot works as a Research Assistant at RAND Corporation in Cambridge
In the next few years, emerging markets are likely to overtake advanced economies as a tourist destination, at least in terms of visitor numbers. Last year, they suffered a temporary setback when the rich world outstripped emerging economies in growth in arrivals. But in 2012, EMs are once again growing faster – and are forecast to maintain their pace.
Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) told beyondbrics: “The rise of the emerging destination is a natural consequence of the changing attitudes and profiles of travellers, who are seeking different and more authentic experiences that emerging destinations offer. Paralleled with this is the emerging economies’ greater emphasis on tourism as part of social and economic development – a viable alternative with a lack of natural resources.”
The UNWTO believe emerging markets will overtake advanced economies in tourist arrivals in just a few years. Back in 2000, advanced economies had 417m visitors against EMs’ 256m – that’s 62 per cent to 38 per cent of the total. By 2010, this had narrowed to a 53 per cent to 47 per cent split; advanced economies recorded 501m tourist arrivals and EMs 441m. But last year, the gap widened as tourists to advanced economies grew 4.9 per cent to 527m and those to EMs only 4.3 per cent to 462m.
Rifai explains: “2011 was a very special year for emerging economies with the tragic events in Japan that dramatically affected the performance of countries in that region. Add to that the disturbances in north Africa and west Asia and it was more or less an exceptional year for emerging markets. In 2012 the normal trend of ascendency is back.”
The UNWTO has released figures for the first eight months of 2012 and it seems we are back on track for convergence: arrivals to emerging economies grew 5 per cent year-on-year, against a 4 per cent rate in advanced economies.
Leading the pack this year is Asia and the Pacific, where arrivals were up 7 percent to August this year. Africa saw growth of 6 per cent and arrivals to the Middle East contracted only 1 per cent, compared with last year’s 7 per cent decline.
Even in Europe and the Americas it is the emerging economies that are attracting tourism. As a whole, arrivals to Europe grew only 3 per cent year-on-year in the eight month period. But arrivals to central and eastern Europe were up 9 per cent. Where arrivals to the Americas grew only 4 per cent this year, central America saw arrivals increase 7 per cent, south America 6 per cent, and the Caribbean 5 per cent.
However, emerging markets remain volume rather than value markets. The five destinations with the greatest tourism earnings in 2011 were the US, Spain, France, China and Italy, with revenues from $116.1bn to $43bn. But this is set to change. Rifai says emerging economies are learning to translate visitor numbers into earnings. In the eight months to August, annual growth in receipts is reported as 26 per cent for South Africa, 23 per cent for India, 19 per cent for Poland and 17 per cent for Thailand.
With 990m international tourists last year, we are on track to cross the billion tourists mark on December 13th this year. That’s one global achievement we’ll all happily contribute to.