Madrid - International tourist arrivals exceeded one billion for the first time last year, with the Asia-Pacific region posting the biggest increase in foreign visitors, and numbers will rise further in 2013, a UN body said on Tuesday.
The number of international tourist arrivals grew by 4.0% to 1.035 billion in 2012, up from 996 million in 2011, the Madrid-based United Nations World Tourism Organisation said in an annual survey.
"2012 was a year of constant economic instability in the entire world, especially in the euro zone. Despite this international tourism managed to maintain its course," the body's Secretary General Taleb Rifai told a news conference.
The organisation forecasts international tourist numbers will grow in 2013 although at a slightly lower rate of 3.0% - 4.0%.
Global tourism figures were hit hard by the 2008 global financial crisis, with the rise in international arrivals that year slowing to 2.1% after jumping 6.6% in the previous year.
Arrivals plunged by 3.9% in 2009, its worst performance in 60 years, as the outbreak of the swine flu virus contributed to cash-strapped consumers' decision to stay home.
But international tourism arrivals bounced back the following year, rising 6.6% in 2010 and by 5.0% in 2011 even though global economic crisis had not yet ended.
The Asia-Pacific region posted the largest growth in visitor arrivals last year with the number of foreign tourists up by 14 million or 6.5% to 233 million.
Growth in the number of foreign visitors was highest in Southeast Asia, with the number of arrivals up by 8.7% over 2011.
Tourist numbers climbed 4.1% in emerging economies compared with a 3.6% rise in advanced economies.
The only region to report a decline in tourist numbers compared with 2011 was the Middle East with 2.0% fewer arrivals because of political instability in popular tourist spots such as Egypt and Syria.
But the drop in the number of visitors to the region was smaller than the decline of 7.0 posted in 2011, the UN body said.
Asia and Africa are expected to post the greatest growth in tourist numbers this year.
The agency predicts tourist arrivals will increase by 5.0%-6.0% in the Asia-Pacific region this year and by 4.0%-6.0% in Africa.
The Middle East will see the number of foreign visitors to the region rise by 0 and 5.0% this year while Europe will post growth of 2.0%-3.0%.
The forecast of continued growth in international tourist arrivals next year comes a week after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted the global economy will grow slightly less in 2013 than expected.
The IMF projects global gross domestic product annual growth of 3.5% this year, a dip of 0.1 point from its October forecast owing largely to weakness in the eurozone, and 4.1% in 2014.
The UN World Tourism Organisation predicts international tourist arrivals will rise by an average of 3.8% each year between 2010 and 2020 and will reach 1.8 billion in 2030.