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International tourism grew nearly 7% in 2010

Travel to Asia and the Middle East grew at a faster pace than to Europe and North America, the U.N. World Tourism Organization reports.

January 18, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times

In another sign of an improving worldwide economy, international travel grew nearly 7% in 2010 compared with the previous year, the U.N. World Tourism Organization reported Monday.

But the growth was mixed. Travel to Asia and the Middle East rebounded much faster, while the pace of growth in visitors to Europe remained sluggish and international travel to North America grew only modestly.

In 2010, 935 million people traveled for business and leisure internationally, up 6.7% over 2009, but only 2% above the pre-recession levels of 2008, according to the report.

Travel to the Middle East grew the most, by 14% to 60 million visitors, while the number of foreign visitors to Asia grew 13% to 204 million, according to the U.N. organization. In North America, international travel grew 8% to 151 million visitors, while travel to Europe increased only 3% to 471 million people.

The report partly attributes the poor showing in Europe to the flight interruptions in April caused by the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano and a slower economic recovery among some countries in the region.

U.N. officials attribute the faster growth in Asia to a more resilient economy and the development of new tourist attractions and destinations, such as the tea-growing region of Munnar in India and the ancient ruins near the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Travel to North America was slowed by the economic recession in the U.S. and the impact of the H1N1 swine flu in Mexico, according to the U.N. report.

"The challenge now will be to consolidate this growth over the coming years amid a still uncertain global economic environment," said Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the U.N. World Tourism Organization.

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