MADRID - South-east Asia continues to ride a tourism boom, latest figures from the United Nations' World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) show.
The region, which is maintaining the extraordinary momentum of recent years, saw almost 12 per cent growth in the number of visitors for the first half of the year, one of the best performing regions in the world.
Overall, the Asian-Pacific region reported growth of 6.2 per cent, with South Asia reporting an increase of 7 per cent.
Worldwide, UNWTO said that international tourist numbers had surged by 5.2 per cent to nearly half a billion people for the same period, beating earlier expectations.
"The fact that international tourism grew above expectations confirms that travelling is now part of consumer patterns for an increasing number of people in both emerging and advanced economies," said UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai on Monday, Agence France-Presse reported.
"This underlines the need to rightly place tourism as one of the key pillars of socio-economic development, being a leading contributor to economic growth, exports and jobs."
Some 494 million international tourists spent at least one night abroad in the first six months of the year, the Madrid-based agency said in a report of preliminary results for the period, AFP reported.
As a result of the "robust" performance, the UNWTO said it was boosting its 2013 forecast.
After originally tipping growth of 3 to 4 per cent for the whole year, it now expects the increase to be at the higher end of that range "or to slightly exceed it".
In a still uneven global economic environment, results were positive in all regions and subregions, though the overall picture was mixed, the UNWTO report said.
Europe enjoyed growth of 5.1 per cent in international tourist numbers in the six months, it said.
But results were weaker than anticipated in the Americas, which posted growth of just 2.2 per cent.
In Africa, international tourist arrivals rose by 3.8 per cent.
In the Middle East, tourist numbers soared by 12.9 per cent, but these figures should be viewed "with caution" because of uneven results and limited data, the report said.
It also looked at tourism expenditure growth driven by emerging economies, according to a press release on the organisation's website.
Emerging economy outbound markets continued to drive growth both to emerging and advanced economy destinations, the press release on the report said.
China with an increase of 31 per cent and Russia with a rise of 22 per cent led the growth in expenditure on travel abroad among the top 10 most important source markets in the world during the first half of the year.
Outside the top 10, Brazil was back with a 15 per cent increase after a more moderate 2012.
Expenditure from traditional markets, on the other hand, was more modest.
Canada, which showed a 3 per cent growth, and France, which enjoyed a 2 per cent growth, led the group, followed by the flat results from the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, and negative figures from Japan, Australia and Italy.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.