MADRID - WORLD tourism will stagnate in 2009 with numbers dropping by up to two percent as the economic downturn bites, the United Nations' tourism agency said on Tuesday.
The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) 'expects 2009 international tourism to be in a range of zero to two percent decline,' according to a statement released by its Madrid headquarters.
'Along with the Americas, Europe will be the most affected region in terms of overall tourism results as most of its source markets are already in or entering into recession,' the statement said.
The two percent prediction 'could be widened,' said Taleb Rifai, the organisation's deputy secretary general.
'We expect the results to be geographically mixed,' he said. 'We expect the Americas to do slightly better than Europe, but not as good as Africa, the Middle East or Asia regions.'
The forecasts mark a sharp change from 2008, when tourist arrivals worldwide rose to 924 million, a two percent increase from the previous year.
But signs of a downturn became clear as the year progressed, said John Kester, director of market studies.
'Around the middle of the year, we noticed a sharp change in trends,' said Mr Kester.
In the first six months of 2008, arrivals grew by five per cent before decreasing by one percent in the second half when the global financial crisis, unemployment and recession became major concerns, he said.
'We have witnessed a sharp drop in confidence in the sector,' said Kester.
The last time tourist arrivals shrank over the course of a year was 2003, which saw a 1.4 per cent decrease, according to the organisation.
Mr Geoffrey Lipman, a spokesman for the organisation, predicted the tourism industry could rebound 'in four years'.
The organisation does not yet have 2008 numbers in a country-by-country breakdown. In 2007, France was at the top of the list, followed by Spain. -- AFP