In terms of geopolitics and the Western world, 2017 was anything but stable. Whether it was terror attacks across Europe, Brexit’s ever-increasing number of unknowns, or the Twitter brinksmanship of Donald Trump, hardly a week went by where news alerts did not rattle the global nervous system.
But all this instability is proving to have a somewhat counterintuitive effect on tourism flows. Preliminary data from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that overall in 2017, international tourism grew by 7%, which is the strongest growth in seven years. However, the rosy tourism picture was not equally distributed. Overall, Europe and Africa fared best with 8% growth in arrivals from the prior year, followed by Asia and the Pacific (6%), the Middle East (5%) and finally the Americas (3%).
Europe’s strong showing was thanks in large part to what the UNWTO described as “extraordinary” growth of 13% in southern and Mediterranean Europe. Meanwhile, western Europe bounced back from a year of virtually no growth in 2016 to earn a 7% spike. This could have something to do with the fact that, as Quartzy previously reported, terror attacks have a faster recovery time in tourism than other events such as natural disasters.
Meanwhile, the US seems to have lost some of its tourism luster, with arrivals in North America only growing by 2%. Though the UNWTO’s figures are preliminary, the BBC reported that Spain would overtake the United States in terms of visitors in 2017. In July of last year (which is the most recent data available) the US Department of Commerce reported international arrivals were down 4%.
The reason for the uneven growth depends on many factors. Cheaper flights certainly help, with low cost carriers offering more and more deals that travelers can’t pass up. Currency fluctuations such as a weak pound or near-parity between the euro and dollar can also motivate travelers to go elsewhere—or stay home—depending on what currency they’re spending. But the US’s poor comparative showing could also be down to the hypothesis of some groups like the U.S. Travel Association, who “feel that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are partly to blame for the poor performance.”
The reasons may be varied but the outcome is pretty clear: European tourism had one of its best years ever, while the US one of its worst.