Despite ongoing global economic upheavals and geopolitical challenges, international tourism continued its onward momentum in 2014. While the year-end holiday season travel figures are still to be tallied into the international visitor numbers for 2014, it is safe to assume that in line with travel data from previous years, this year too global tourism will continue to maintain its upward trajectory.
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the UN agency responsible for promoting responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism around the world international tourist arrivals in 2014 are expected to be around 1.13 billion, a four-percent increase on the 1.09 billion figure in 2013. In its 2013 annual report on the state of the global tourism industry, UNWTO noted that Europe, with 563 million visitor arrivals, maintained its title as the most visited region in the world. In relative terms, the strongest growth was shown by Asia and Pacific region where tourist numbers grew by 14 million to reach 248 million visitors in 2013.
Meanwhile, Africa registered increased potential with three million additional arrivals that took its annual tally to a record 56 million visitors. The top ten most visited countries in the world accounted for 47 percent of the total international arrivals. France ranked at the top of the list with 84.7 million arrivals; the United States came in second with 69.8 million visitors, followed by Spain with 60.7 million, China with 55.7 million and Italy with 47.7 million visitors.
Making up the rest of the top ten were Turkey (37.8m), Germany (31.5m), United Kingdom (31.2m), Russia (28.4m) and Thailand (26.5m). Global tourism industry topped US$1.07 trillion in receipts, accounting for 5 percent of direct global GDP and 250 million jobs.
Top destinations 2014
The top visited destinations in 2014 according to the annual Master Card Survey were, from bottom to top:
No. 19 Tokyo
The shrinking value of the yen is good news for internationaltravelers to Japan. Tokyo, which is a major transportation hub, expects 5.38 million visitors in 2014.
No. 18 Riyadh
The Saudi Arabian capital expects 5.59 million visitors this year.
No. 17 Vienna
With a rank of No. 17 in the top 20 worldwide, Vienna is also one of Europe’s top 10 destination cities. It expects 6.05 million visitors this year — a 6.8 percent increase over last year.
No. 16 Shanghai
Count Shanghai among the new and dynamic destination cities; once a fishing and textiles town, it is now a major financial center, the showpiece of Asian economic development and is expected to get 6.09 million international visitors this year.
No. 15 Taipei
The capital of the Republic of China, Taipei ranks No. 15 in both the number of visitors and spending.
No. 14 Rome
It has not lost any of its charm, but Rome ranks behind Seoul, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai.
No. 13 Milan
With slightly more visitors than Rome, Milan ranks No. 13 on the list.
No. 12 Amsterdam
With its scenic canals, meandering cobble stone streets and inventive architecture, Amsterdam can satisfy the most ravenous explorer or jaded traveler. It is also an important hub city for travel to other European destinations.
No. 11 Barcelona
For the second consecutive year, Barcelona outranks Madrid in popularity with visitors. Barcelona’s old world charm and Gaudi architecture will lure 7.37 million international travelers in 2014.
No. 10 Seoul
Visitor spending pumps money into Seoul’s economy; visitors are expected to spend $11.5 billion there in 2014 – an increase of 6.3 percent over the previous year.
No. 8 Kuala Lumpur
A construction boom has altered the cityscape of the downtown area of Kuala Lumpur, capital city of Malaysia. It expects 10.81 million visitors in 2014, making it No. 3 of the top 10 Asia/Pacific destination cities, after Bangkok and Singapore.
No. 7 Istanbul
As a travel destination, Istanbul is a rising star, with sights like the Hagia Sophia mosque ranking as a prime destination. Last year’s survey project that if all top 10 destination cities maintain their current rates of growth in the next few years, then by 2016, Istanbul will surpass Singapore, New York and Paris in terms of international visitor arrivals.
No. 6 New York
In terms of overnight visitor spending, New York switched places with London in 2014. Visitors are expected to spend $18.57 billion in New York, versus $19.27 in London — perhaps a function of the strength of the British pound right now.
No. 5 Dubai
Sometimes called the shopping capital of the Middle-East, Dubai shows strong growth, increasing their arrival numbers by 10.9 percent in 2013 and 7.5 percent in 2014.
No. 4 Singapore
With a population of less than 5 million, Singapore expects 12.47 million visitors this year — a 3.1 percent increase over last year. Although it is a melting pot of cultures, including Indian, Chinese and Malay, English is the dominant language, and Westerners do not tend to experience the culture shock there that occurs elsewhere in the region.
No. 3 Paris
Never mind that Paris has a slow growth rate in the number of visitors — just 1.8 percent, it is still a favorite city of many travelers.
No. 2 Bangkok
Political unrest seems to be hurting Thai tourism. Bangkok only slipped one rank since last year, but experienced an 11 percent decline in visitors.
No. 1 London
Whether it draws visitors for business or pleasure, London regained the top rank this year in the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, with an 8 percent growth in visitors.