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MADRID: World tourism surged in July, thanks to vaccination rollouts and fewer travel restrictions, but traveller numbers still fell far short of pre-pandemic levels, the UN's tourism body said Monday.

Some 54 million tourists crossed international borders in July, the highest figure since April 2020, in the early months of the coronavirus crisis, the World Tourism Organization said in a statement.

That represented an increase of 58 percent compared with the level recorded in July 2020, but was still a drop of 67 percent from the 164 million recorded in July 2019.

"This improvement was underpinned by the reopening of many destinations to international travel, mostly in Europe and the Americas... coupled with progress made in the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines" which contributed to "gradually restoring safe mobility in Europe and other parts of the world," it said.

"Nevertheless, 2021 continues to be a challenging year for global tourism, with international arrivals down 80 percent in January-July compared to 2019," said the Madrid-based organisation.

In the first seven months of the year, Asia and the Pacific continued to see the steepest declines, with a drop of 95 percent in international arrivals, followed by the Middle East where numbers were down 82 percent, Europe and Africa, which registered a fall of 77 percent, and the Americas which sustained a drop 68 percent.

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Only a few small islands in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, alongside several small European destinations recovered and counted arrivals close to, or even higher, than pre-pandemic levels.

Spain, which before the pandemic was the world's second most popular tourist destination, on Monday said it welcomed 15 million tourists in the first eight months of the year, a decline of 4.2 percent from the same period last year, the National Statistics Institute said.

The data cast doubt on the objective set by the Spanish government of attracting some 45 million foreign visitors this year, around half the number of 2019.

"The true restart of tourism and the benefits it brings, remains on hold as inconsistent rules and regulations and uneven vaccination rates continue to affect confidence in travel," UNWTO head Zurab Pololikashvili in the statement.

The UN body said it was expecting to see a "rebound" in 2022 although global tourism is not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels until 2023 or 2024.

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