Tourism industry emerges from downturn

Thu Mar 6, 2014 1:42pm EST
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By Maria Sheahan and Victoria Bryan

BERLIN (Reuters) - The outlook for the global travel industry looks brighter for 2014 as European economic recovery and rising consumer confidence are prompting holidaymakers and businesses to loosen their purse strings again.

Growth is still unevenly spread across regions, according to comments from the industry's biggest trade fair in Berlin this week, with some destinations such as Egypt, China and Thailand facing a tough time due to political turmoil, security concerns or stricter regulations.

Current tension between Russia and Ukraine also poses a risk to growth this year but overall, the number of international tourists is set to increase by 4 to 4.5 percent after reaching a record of almost 1.1 billion in 2013, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said.

"We think that this (growth) will be consolidated again in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and beyond," Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the UNWTO told Reuters. "It will not be 5 percent every year, but the important thing is that growth is consolidated."

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on Wednesday that 2014 had got off to a strong start, with travel demand accelerating from last year thanks to stronger growth in advanced economies and emerging market regions.

Angela Brav, head of hotelier InterContinental's (IHG.L: Quote) European business, said she started seeing a real uptick in the fourth quarter of 2013 and that has continued: "GDP is forecast to improve, unemployment is getting better and business optimism in Europe is high," she said at the ITB travel fair.

Paulo Salvador, chief marketing officer of World Hotels, which groups together almost 500 hotels in 65 countries, said the year had started off especially well in North America and Brazil, while growth was slower in Asia.

BOOM IN GREECE   Continued...

Tourists pose for a photo in a flooded St. Mark's Square during a period of seasonal high water in Venice January 31, 2014. REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri