MADRID: International tourist arrivals should recover strongly in 2010 after the global crisis and the swine flu pandemic produced “one of the most difficult years” for the sector, the UN World Tourism Organisation said today.

World tourism fell by an estimated 4 per cent in 2009 but should rebound by 3 to

4 per cent in 2010, it said in its annual World Tourism Barometer. Growth returned in the last quarter of 2009 contributing to better than expected full-year results.

“The year 2009 was one of the most difficult that tourism has seen in recent times,” UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai told a news conference. He cited the global economic crisis “aggravated by the uncertainty around the A(H1N1) pandemic. “Yet, we are optimistic that

the recovery is underway. The trend is bottoming out.”

The 2010 growth outlook was confirmed by the remarkable rise of the WNWTO Panel of

Experts Confidence index.

“The results of recent months suggest that recovery is underway, and even

somewhat earlier and at a stronger pace than initially

expected,” said Rifai. But he said 2010 would still be a demanding year.

“Many countries were quick in reacting to the crisis and actively implemented measures to mitigate its impact

and stimulate recovery. Although we expect growth to return in 2010, a premature withdrawal of these stimulus measures and the temptation to impose extra taxes may jeopardise the pace of rebound in tourism,” he said.

He noted the significant growth in domestic tourism, particularly in some large countries such as China, Brazil and Spain, as a result of

the crisis.

On a regional basis, he

said, “Europe and North America are lagging while Asia

and the Middle East are pushing ahead.”

Europe ended 2009

down 6 per cent after a very complicated first half, with destinations in central, eastern and northern Europe particularly badly hit, the report

said. But Asia and the

Pacific, where tourism was down 2 per cent, showed an extraordinary rebound.

While arrivals in that

region declined by 7 per cent between January and June, the second half of 2009 saw 3 per cent growth reflecting regional economic results and prospects. Arrivals were

down 6 per cent 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 bucked the trend with 5 per cent growth.