International Travelers Top 1 Billion in 2012 . / Credit: Business Travel Image via Shutterstock

International travel has reached record levels, new research shows.

A study by the United Nations' World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) found that the number of international tourists increased by 4 percent in 2012 to 1.035 billion. This was the first time in history that the number of international travelers topped the 1 billion mark.

UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai said international tourism managed to stay on course in 2012 despite the continued economic volatility around the globe, particularly in the Eurozone.

"The sector has shown its capacity to adjust to the changing market conditions and, although at a slightly more modest rate, is expected to continue expanding in 2013," Rifai said. "Tourism is thus one of the pillars that should be supported by governments around the world as part of the solution to stimulating economic growth."

In the year ahead, the UNWTO projects international travelers to increase 3 to 4 percent, much in line with its long-term forecast for 2030 that calls for an average 3.8 percent increase a year between 2010 and 2020.

Topping the destination of choice is Europe, where international arrivals reached 535 million, 17 million more than in 2011, the research found. Trips to the Asia Pacific region were up by 15 million in 2012, reaching a total 233 million international tourists.

The Americas saw an increase of 6 million arrivals, reaching 162 million. Leading the growth were destinations in Central America, up 6 percent from a year ago.  The number of international travelers visiting North America increased 3 percent from 2011.

The Middle East was the only region to experience a drop in visitors.  The region recorded 3 million fewer international tourist arrivals in 2012, which follows a 7 percent drop in 2011.

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