The total, based on its preliminary data for 36 Asia-Pacific destinations, represents an upturn of 5.2% on 2014.
The Pacific led the way with annual growth of over 7% to reach almost 27 million foreign arrivals. This was followed by the Americas – excluding the USA – with growth of 9% to reach almost more than 54 million arrivals.
Asia in total grew by 4.5% year-on-year but there were large variations within the region.
Northeast Asia reported 3.5% growth; there was 6.7% growth in arrivals for Southeast Asia, and a high of 8.2% for South Asia.
Within this range of growth results, Asia captured more than 80% of all foreign arrivals for this group of destinations in 2015 and over 70% of the incremental increase in absolute numbers between 2014 and 2015.
At the individual destination level Japan had an especially strong year, growing by just over 47% year-on-year and setting a new record for foreign arrivals of more than 19.7 million.
According to PATA, it appears that the easing of visa requirements had a very positive impact on foreign inbound tourism for Japan.
In similar fashion, Chile and Thailand both reported strong annual gains – achieving growth of 23% and 21% respectively. Thailand was close to receiving 30 million foreign visitors in 2015, falling short of that milestone by less than 100,000 arrivals.
Sri Lanka also performed strongly in 2015, growing by almost 18% between 2014 and 2015 and coming close to passing the two million milestone for the very first time (1.798 million).
Overall, 29 of the 36 destinations for which preliminary 2015 data are available reported positive growth with ten of those destinations falling within the double-digit range.
Supporting these gains across the wider Asia Pacific region was the continued expansion of scheduled air seat capacity – 8.7% annual growth in 2015 for Asia Pacific as compared to a global average of 6.7%.
The 38 Asia Pacific destinations for which PATA produces five-year annual forecasts are expected to collectively continue with the overall growth momentum of the last few years and pass 550 million foreign arrivals this year and 600 million by 2018.
It predicts that each year between 2016 and 2020 will set new records for foreign arrivals, which will reach a near-term collective record high of close to 650 million by 2020.
At the sub-regional level, average growth rates between 2015 and 2020 are expected to range from around 3% per annum for the Americas and the Pacific to 3.4%per annum for Northeast Asia, says PATA.
Southeast Asia is forecast to show an average annual growth rate of 6.8% to 2020 while South Asia will set the pace with average annual growth of 7.6%.
Overall, Asia is predicted to see its foreign arrivals count increase by an average of 4.5% per annum between 2015 and 2020.
And just over 80% of the foreign arrivals into Asia-Pacific in 2020 – adjusted for the Greater China influence – will come from just 20 source markets and two-thirds of that volume will come from Asia.
Mario Hardy, CEO of PATA, says: “It is heartening to see that the momentum of the Asia-Pacific tourism sector will continue until at least the end of this decade and that it continues to play a significant role as both a receiver and generator of international visitors.
“The region’s identity as the engine of growth in international tourism is well justified. While this strong and sustained growth is a positive sign, it brings with it a number of responsibilities that require changes in mindset and measurement.
“We must ask ourselves if we are able to maintain high service delivery in the face of such continued growth and whether or not we have the correct software in place.
“The protocols and policies to manage effectively this growth are vitally important and we must also question how such increases in visitor arrivals may be managed to remain both rewarding to the destination citizens and sustainable in the longer-term.
“Growth brings with it rewards, but also responsibilities.”