International tourist arrivals grew faster than expected in the first half of this year in what the United Nations' World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said was a sign that travelling is now part of consumer patterns.
Global arrivals grew 5% over the same period last year, above the 3-4% projected early this year and surpassing the annual 3.8% growth forecast in UNWTO's Tourism Towards 2030 outlook.
Destinations around the world welcomed an estimated 494 million overnight visitors in the first six months, up 25 million, according to data just released by UNWTO.
Growth was stronger in emerging economies (6%) than in advanced economies (4%) _ a trend that has marked the sector for many years now.
The fact that international tourism grew faster than expected confirms that travelling is now part of consumer patterns for more people in both emerging and advanced economies, said UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai.
In a still uneven global economic environment, results were positive in all regions and subregions, though the overall picture was mixed.
Europe's 5% growth was better than expected, driven by central and eastern Europe (10%) and southern and Mediterranean Europe (6%).
Asia and the Pacific (6%) also exceeded expectations, boosted by Southeast Asia (12%) and South Asia (7%).
On the other hand, growth results were weaker than anticipated in the Americas (2%) as South America and the Caribbean lagged behind.
The first half normally accounts for about 45% of annual arrivals. The northern hemisphere's high season of July and August falls in the second half.
Growth is expected to continue in the second half but at a gradually slower pace. UNWTO forecasts 2013 growth to be 4% or slightly more, exceeding the initial estimate.