Asia boasts six of the top 10 most visited cities on the planet, thanks to the rise of Chinese tourism and to the region’s efforts to develop “smart cities”.
Asia-Pacific cities dominated the 2017 Top 100 City Destinations survey – published by market research firm Euromonitor International – with 41 mentions, including the top two spots.
The rankings, based on the number of international visitors who spend 24 hours or more in a city, cover four regions: Asia-Pacific, Europe and the UK, the Middle East and Africa and the America’s.
Hong Kong street scape: Asia-Pacific cities dominated the 2017 Top 100 City Destinations survey.
Hong Kong held onto its crown as the world’s most visited destination, despite a dip in visitor numbers from 26.5 million in 2016 to 25.7 million visitors in 2017.
The report’s lead author, senior travel analyst Wouter Geerts, says the drop in numbers was due to strained relations with mainland China, but was expected to be short-lived, with growth picking up again from 2018–2025.
Bangkok meanwhile nudged London out of second place, attracting 23.3 million visitors compared to the UK capital’s 19.8 million. Geerts says the Thai capital has performed strongly in recent years and has now solidified its position at number two with nearly 10% growth in visitor numbers.
The top ten most visited cities globally:
The top ten most visited cities in Asia:
“Asia-Pacific is the standout region driving change in the travel landscape,” Geerts says. “We expect the region to continue growing in the coming decade with Singapore overtaking London as the third most visited city in the world by 2025, giving the podium fully to Asia.”
Other Asian cities to make the top 10 are: Singapore (4), Macau (5), Shenzhen (9) and Kuala Lumpur (10).
Race to become cashless cities of the future
Asian cities are expected to continue their domination over the next decade and to ensure continued growth and sustainable expansion, local governments are steaming ahead with “smart cities” programs.
Seoul, home to Samsung and LG, is expected to offer the first 5G network during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Hong Kong’s Octopus Card, which can be used to pay for public transport and in shops, restaurants and vending machines, was one of the world’s first contactless smart cards. And Singapore has been working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on mobility, health and environmental projects as part of the city-state’s Smart Nation programme.
Geerts says Asian cities are also driving a “cashless revolution”, with the push towards digital payments coming from governments, companies and consumers. He says South Korea is nearly completely cashless and that there’s a growing trend among Chinese urbanites to use mobile apps to make payments.
“Developing economies such as China and India have traditionally relied heavily on cash, as many citizens do not have bank accounts,” Geerts says. “A big step towards a `smarter’ society and economy is the growth of digital payment facilities.”
How Australian and New Zealand cities performed
Sydney is Australia’s top raking city at 53 on the list, having pulled in more than 3.8 million visitors, a 6.6% increase in arrivals from 2016.
Melbourne, the only other Australian city in the top 100, comes in at number 77 with nearly 2.8 million visitors for the year – an annual increase on 9.8%.
Meanwhile, Auckland also made the top 100 with 2.6 million visitors pushing the New Zealand capital into 81st place.
Household names London and Paris are the only European cities to make the top 10.
Geerts says Europe’s tourism industry has been hampered in recent years by geopolitical events including the Eurozone crisis, Brexit and terrorist attacks in a number of countries. Despite its continued popularity as a destination, Paris saw a considerable drop in visitor numbers following two fatal and high-profile terrorist attacks in 2015.
Arrivals to Istanbul and Antalya have also fallen markedly due to Turkey’s ongoing war in neighbouring Syria, high-profile terrorist attacks and a failed coup in July 2016.
But Geerts says a “substitution effect” means cities in relatively quiet and stable countries are profiting from unrest elsewhere.
“The effect of terrorist attacks is evident, with Brussels, Paris, Nice and Istanbul all registering weak performances,” he says. “Spain, Greece and Italy are performing well, as they offer a similar climate to affected countries.
The top ten most visited European cities
Seven of the 10 most visited cities in the Americas are in the US, with New York City the clear leader. But US visitor numbers slowed in 2016 due to a strong dollar and political uncertainty surrounding presidential elections.
Geerts expects this trend to continue and that US cities will fall behind major destinations in Canada and Latin America due to continued unease around the Trump Whitehouse.
“Trump entered office on the back of claims that he would close the US border, build a wall between Mexico and the US and end trade agreements, all potentially affecting the travel industry,” Geerts says.
The top ten most visited cities in the Americas
He says Canadian cities Toronto and Vancouver are in a strong growth period, as the low Canadian dollar ensures an affordable holiday destination for many. Canada is also likely benefiting from some “substitution effect”, as its current political vision is the near-opposite of its southern neighbour, advocating openness and stronger ties with other countries.
The Mexican city of Cancun is expected to be the region’s strongest growing destination in 2017. While the US is still the largest source market, Mexico is becoming increasingly popular with visitors from Europe and Asia.
The Middle East and Africa (MEA)
Tourism performance in the Middle East and Africa has fluctuated greatly in recent years due to unrest in many countries, Geerts says, but 2017 is expected to be a good year across the board.
Dubai is by far the largest destination in the Middle East while Mecca and Riyadh are also booming. Egypt is expected to register growth after a strong decline in 2016 due to the October 2015 bombing involving a Russian plane, which “stopped tourism to Egypt in its tracks”. But much of the Middle East continues to face wars and border disputes.
The top ten most visited cities in the
Middle East & Africa
Africa meanwhile is looking to do the reverse: opening borders and enhancing collaboration. It has had its own recent struggles, however, with the 2014 outbreak of Ebola in Guinea, followed by an unprecedented number of cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
“The outbreak caused shockwaves throughout the West Africa region, and had a heavy impact on tourism arrivals,” Geerts says. “Since the outbreak was declared over in June 2016, Sierra Leone has seen the strongest rebound in its economy and tourism numbers.
“Meanwhile, Guinea and Liberia are expected to see only slow growth and a long way back to recovery to pre-Ebola arrival numbers.”