These regions are poised for tourism growth in 2018

By analyzing approximately 17 million flight booking transactions a day, Spanish consultancy group ForwardKeys has come out with its global long-haul travel report and forecast for the first quarter of 2018, offering some key insights as to the main travel destinations for the coming year. 

For the coming year, the company predicts a "very bright" outlook in general, with the exception of the U.S., where the climate is expected to be somewhat cooler than the rest of the world.

"One has to be optimistic," Olivier Jager, CEO of ForwardKeys, said in a statement. "Despite 2017 being a year filled with economic and political uncertainty, it is one in which long-haul travel has grown strongly and that trend looks set to continue."

A Peak Travel Year

In terms of long-haul travel, 2017 was an "outstanding year," with international flight arrivals up 7 percent over last year. Inbound air travel to the Asia Pacific region was up 4.4 percent, while intercontinental flight arrivals to Africa and the Middle East were up 11.5 percent. Europe's arrivals increased 13.3 percent. 

The only negative region was the Americas, where growth was virtually frozen at just 0.1 percent up over 2016.

What's Ahead

Looking at the travel forecast for the first quarter of 2018, long-haul flight bookings are generally solid, 10.4 percent ahead of the equivalent moment last year. The notable exception is, again, the U.S., where bookings for international arrivals are just 2.6 percent ahead.

Current long-haul bookings for the Asia-Pacific region are exceptionally strong at 12 percent ahead of where they were last December. The outbound picture is also positive, with major bright spots including Australia, New Zealand, India and China, where economic growth is stimulating demand for travel, coupled with capacity increases.

Travel to South Korea is still suffering from the THAAD missile crisis, and the deep setback is unlikely to be reversed by a recent thaw in diplomatic relations or the simultaneous occurrence of the winter Olympics in PyeongChang with Chinese New Year (conditions which in other years would probably precipitate a perfect storm in demand). 

Long-haul bookings for Africa and the Middle East are up 11.9 percent. Africa’s outbound travel is also slated to rise, buoyed up by general economic recovery in Nigeria and South Africa. Egypt looks poised to see a travel increase after February, when the country once again allows Russian travelers to visit. 

Thanks to the EU-China Tourism Year, Continental Europe's first-quarter bookings are 13.3 percent ahead of the previous year. In Russia, the FIFA World Cup is expected to attract a "tidal surge" of visitors and encourage the domestic population to remain at home. 

The UK's outlook, meanwhile, is not quite so optimistic, as a rise in the value of the pound is damping enthusiasm for the destination seen last year.

The Americas

The travel forecast for the Americas is a mixed bag. Overall, bookings are 4.8 percent ahead, but the U.S. is decidedly struggling, with the increase in booking temperature around 2 percent lower than the average for the continent.

Elsewhere, other countries are all seeing strong inbound interest. Chinese visa facilitation and an increase in capacity from India looks poised to support Canada's inbound numbers.  

The climate for regional and long-haul outbound travel in Latin America will be very good, led by favorable bookings from Mexico in the north and solid travel conditions in the south, where Argentina, Brazil and Chile are all expected to continue growing at double-digit rates in the first quarter of the year.