Which Is the World's Most Touristy City?

Sun shining down on a beach between cliffs in Cancun Mexico
Photo by goglik83/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, October 23, 2018

A few decades ago most Britons made do with a couple of weeks of holiday a year – and with few exceptions it involved bracing the UK seaside or an all-inclusive package at a Mediterranean resort.

Then came the deregulation of air travel, the rise of low-cost flights and the age of city tourism. Today we can fly to just about every significant metropolis in Europe - from Aarhus to Zagreb - for the price of a slap-up dinner, while North America, Asia and Oceania are just as well endowed with cheap connections.

So it’s little wonder that travellers around the world have been taking advantage. Abta, the travel association, recently reported that Britons now take more city breaks than beach holidays, while a new report from the World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC) suggests urban trips represent 45 per cent of all international travel.

So which is the world’s most touristy city?

The rise of the city break has caused problems. Telegraph Travel has led the “overtourism” debate, extensively documenting tensions between locals and visitors in cities such as VeniceAmsterdamDubrovnikLisbon and Barcelona, and identifying ways to address this growing issue. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to see two of these cities - Venice and Dubrovnik - among the 10 most reliant on tourist cash. According to WTTC, 17.4 per cent of Dubrovnik’s GDP comes from tourism; for Venice the figure is 11.4 per cent.

Anyone who has seen St Mark’s Square on a summer’s day, or heard tales of how Venice’s shrinking population is “losing” its home to tourists, could be forgiven for thinking 11.4 per cent is an underestimate. But the city of Venice extends to the mainland and remains a major centre for shipping and heavy industry.

Trumping it, by some margin, is Cancún. The Mexican city, little more than a fishing village until the Seventies, relies on tourism for 49.6 per cent of its GDP, putting it ahead of Marrakesh (30.2 per cent) and Macau (29.3 per cent) of the 72 destinations to feature in the report (Orlando, Antalya, Las Vegas, Dubai and Bangkok complete the top 10).

Furthermore, 37.7 per cent of Cancún’s residents are employed in the tourist trade, more than any other destination. Macau is second on 27.6 per cent; for Venice the figure is 12.4 per cent.

“Although [Cancún] also has a significant amount of activity in business services, the bulk of it is directly supporting Travel & Tourism,” says the report. “The city’s high reliance on the sector exposes it to shifts in demand from its main source markets, the USA and Canada.” It also points out that Marrakesh is excessively dependent on French visitors and Antalya on travellers from Germany and Russia.

Tourist towns | Tourism as a percentage of total GDP 

Where would Hungary be without Budapest?

Hungary offers much to entice visitors. There’s vineyards, castles, caves, the ancient city of Pécs and even a beach (that’s pretty impressive for a landlocked country). In the eyes of most travellers, however, Hungary is a one-hit wonder. An incredible 95.7 per cent of the country’s tourism GDP comes from Budapest.

Ireland also relies heavily on its capital, with 60.2 per cent of its tourism GDP coming from Dublin. Dubai accounts for 58.7 per cent of the UAE’s travel cash.

One-hit wonders | City tourism GDP as a percentage of country tourism GDP 

The world’s most visited city

Figures vary depending on the source. WTTC reckons it is Hong Kong, with 27m international arrivals in 2017, followed by Bangkok, Macau and Dubai.

The 2018 Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index, which only counts overnight stays, puts Bangkok on top (20.05m), followed by London and Paris – with Hong Kong down in 14th.

The biggest earner from travel and tourism, however, is actually Shanghai. WTTC calculates that it pocketed $35bn from leisure visitors in 2017.

At a glance | Which is the world's most visited city? 

The fastest growing cities

The Mastercard index saw several new arrivals in the top 20. Pattaya, Palma de Mallorca, Mecca, Phuket and Antalya emerged at the expense of Prague, Vienna, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Rome. A look back to the 2012 rankings reveals how more other cities have been ousted. Madrid, Frankfurt, Los Angeles and Beijing were all once part of the top 20, but no longer; Dubai has risen from eighth to fourth; Osaka has become a rival to Tokyo.  

The WTTC report also highlights “a clear shift from North to South and West to East”. Nine of the 15 fastest growing cities in terms of direct Travel & Tourism GDP in 2017 were cities in the Asia-Pacific region, including Macau, Chongqing, Manila, Beijing and Guangzhou.

The only cities to register a decline in tourism income were Brasilia, Seoul, Rio, Miami, Las Vegas, Cape Town, Durban, Hong Kong and San Francisco.

High risers | The fastest growing cities in terms of tourism GDP 

A few more interesting findings

Lagos, in Nigeria, is the world’s business travel capital. It depends on suited visitors for 71.1 per cent of its total tourism income, putting it just ahead of Stockholm. Riyadh, Cape Town and Toronto complete the top five.

Los Angeles doesn’t need you. Tourism only accounts for 1.6 per cent of its GDP. For London the figure is almost as small: two per cent.

Chongqing’s appeals haven’t reached the wider world – 95 per cent of its tourism earnings come from the domestic market. Other Chinese cities, such as Guangzhou (90 per cent), Shanghai (87.6 per cent), Beijing (87.4 per cent) and Chengdu (83.3 per cent) also get far more domestic tourists than international ones.

Conversely, 96.7 per cent of Dublin’s tourism income comes from abroad. Which isn’t really surprising for a small island nation.

Chongqing is expected to experience the biggest growth, in terms of tourism and travel GDP, over the next decade (+9.2 per cent), followed by Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu.

Jakarta is the city of a million tourism workers. Well, 1,172,000 to be precise. Beijing comes second with 892,000.

 

This article was written by Oliver Smith from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

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