The Surprising Destinations Where Tourism is Booming

Photo by Inceören

by Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, April 25, 2016

The fastest growing by percent increase in tourist arrivals.

The following 10 countries saw the sharpest increase in visitor numbers during 2015, compared with the previous year. The figures come courtesy of the United Nations World Travel Organisation (UNWTO). Some countries have not yet returned data for the fourth quarter of 2015, in which case we have used projections based on performance during the first nine months of the year. 

10. Seychelles 

+ 18.7% to 276,000

Why go?  Because they are among the most beautiful islands on Earth, with white sand beaches frequented by egg-laying turtles and some extraordinarily romantic hotels . 

9.  Chile

+ 20.4% to 4.42m

Why go? To marvel at the colourful houses of Valparaiso, the otherworldly Atacama, and the spectacular mountains of Patagonia . 

8. Thailand

+22.3% to 30.3m

Thailand's growing popularity

1996 7,244,000
2001 10,133,000
2006 13,822,000
2007 14,464,000
2008 14,584,000
2009 14,150,000
2010 15,936,000
2011 19,230,000
2012 22,354,000
2013 26,547,000
2014 24,810,000
2015 30,342,000

Why go?  For beaches, nightlife, temples, fantastic street food and luxury hotels.

7. Panama

+22.4% to 2.13m

Why go? Our Panama expert Chris Moss lists five good reasons to go: "The Panama Canal, an astounding feat of engineering and surprisingly beautiful to look at thanks to the surrounding rainforest; the town ofBoquete and nearby cloud forest-covered peaks for hiking, rafting, visiting coffee plantations and hot springs; Bocas del Toro archipelago, where pristine tropical forests lie on deserted beaches, for the moment; and the beaches of San Blas' 378 islands (only 49 inhabited), clichéd tropical perfection (used in the Survivor TV show) but also home to indigenous Kuna communities."

6. Bosnia and Herzegovina

+28.2% to 687,000

Why go? Because  Sarajevo is a scandalously underrated city break destination . "Surrounded by green hills and bisected by a river, it is a place of spectacular beauty, and though the scars of the siege of the 1990s are still evident, Sarajevans display heartening resilience and vitality," says Adrian Bridge.

5. Iceland

+29.8% to 1.29m

How we fell for Iceland

1996 201,000
2001 301,000
2006 422,000
2007 485,000
2008 502,000
2009 494,000
2010 489,000
2011 566,000
2012 673,000
2013 807,000
2014 998,000
2015 1,295,000

Why go? To explore the frozen landscapes that feature so prominently in Game of Thrones, and to see  Reykjavik, perhaps Europe's coolest capital city . 

4. Japan

+47.5% to 19.7m

Japan comes of age

1996 3,684,000
2001 4,772,000
2006 7,334,000
2007 8,347,000
2008 8,351,000
2009 6,790,000
2010 8,611,000
2011 6,219,000
2012 8,358,000
2013 10,364,000
2014 13,413,000
2015 19,784,000

Why go? For peaceful  Kyoto, hectic  Toyko, flower-filled Hokkaido and beaches that look like they've been airlifted from the South Pacific . 

3. Niue

+62.9% to 11,000

Why go? Because you'll be the only person in your town who has. Yes, visitor numbers to Niue rose 62.9% last year, but that equates to just 4,000 extra people. 

2. Tajikistan

+94% - 414,000

Why go? "This small, poor country is the least visited in Central Asia," writes Chris Moss. "Half the country lies above 9,800ft, and the Fann and Pamir mountain ranges are ideal for extreme hiking and camping. The Pamir Highway (also known, more prosaically, as the M41) is a  celebrated update of the original Silk Road . The capital, Dushanbe, is on the highway and is the location of Central Asia’s largest extant Buddha statue.

"Tajikistan is remarkably free of outside influence – and therefore of burger and coffee chains, advertising, and consumerism in general, as well as the all-pervasive and intrusive electronic gizmos that are everywhere in, say, Astana or Tashkent. The Foreign Office advises against travel to the eastern half of the country. Silk Road Tours (020 8728 2478; ) and Great Game (028 9091 3001; ) can arrange trips."

1. Paraguay

+97% to 1.27m

Paraguay: it was a very good year

1996 426,000
2001 279,000
2006 388,000
2007 416,000
2008 428,000
2009 439,000
2010 465,000
2011 524,000
2012 579,000
2013 610,000
2014 649,000
2015 1,278,000

Why go? Chris Moss,  author of our Paraguay travel guide, writes: "For the moment, fascinating regions such as the wildlife-rich wetlands of the Paraguayan Pantanal and the immense Gran Chaco, beloved of birdwatchers, will attract only those with plenty of time and patience and the desire to go somewhere really different. 

"Asunción, founded in 1537, is older than Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro. Depending on your point of view it’s a backwater or a pleasant, human-sized capital. Arguably the finest attractions in Paraguay, the two Unesco-listed Jesuit Missions of the Holy Trinity of the Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangue are not touristy at all and are as impressive as Argentina’s more famous ruins at San Ignacio Miní." 

The fastest growing by percent increase in tourism's contribution to GDP.

This top 10 was compiled by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and reflects the increase in the contribution of travel and tourism's to total GDP during 2015, compared with the previous year.

10. Myanmar

+ 15.4%

How Burma made it big

1996 490,000
2001 475,000
2006 630,000
2007 716,000
2008 731,000
2009 763,000
2010 792,000
2011 816,000
2012 1,059,000
2013 2,044,000
2014 3,081,000
2015 3,481,000

Why go? Gill Charlton, our Burma expert, writes : "It has some wondrous sights: a thousand temples scattered across the countryside in Bagan; the leg-rowers and floating gardens of Inle Lake, and majestic rivers - the Ayeyarwady and the Chindwin - navigable into the furthest reaches of the country. But the big draw is the chance to see a country where the 21st-century world has barely intruded. This is changing but there is still a strong sense of the old Orient here. It's a place where Buddhism is still a way of life."

9. Vietnam

+ 16.1% 

Vietnam's tourism surge

1996 1,607,000
2001 2,330,000
2006 3,583,000
2007 4,229,000
2008 4,236,000
2009 3,747,000
2010 5,050,000
2011 6,014,000
2012 6,848,000
2013 7,572,000
2014 7,874,000
2015 7,900,000

Why go? Vietnam's growth in popularity comes as no suprise to Telegraph Travel -  it was named among our 20 destinations to visit in 2015 . "Its cities are absurdly in-your-face, driven by the buzz of a million motorbikes and the palpable thrust of energy and commerce, yet this is a nation that also does subtle - just try the food," explained Iain Stewart. "North of Hoi An, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is Vietnam’s hottest region for 2015. Riddled with an astonishing number of cave systems, including the Hang Son Doong (the world’s largest cave) the scenery is spectacular with rainforest, towering karst peaks and jungle rivers." 

8.  Iceland

+ 16.3%

Why go? In addition to the reasons listed above, because you can  watch the Northern Lights,  walk inside a glacier, and  descend into a volcano. 

7. Tanzania

+ 16.5%

Why go? Because it plays host to one of the most remarkable spectacles in nature: The Great Migration. Check out our guide and start planning your trip . 

6. Thailand

+ 18.4%

Why go? There's the aforementioned beaches,  the unspoiled islands  - and what might just be the world's coolest spot for afternoon tea . 

 5. Georgia

+ 19.4%

Why go?  Claire Allfree recommends getting lost in the splendour of the Georgian capital . She writes: "These days, its fine Art Nouveau buildings and pretty, traditional balconied houses are what some would call shabby chic: if any city needed a good lick of Farrow and Ball, this one does. Yet new hotels and shopping malls are springing up and gentrification is under way in its more historic districts. Determinedly looking towards Europe, Tbilisi feels like a city finally coming into itself. In other words, get here fast before everyone else does."  Katie Melua, the singer, is another fan  - it is, after all, her childhood home. "It's steeped in history - the Old Town, with its twisting alleys, is particularly fascinating," she says. "It's a city that's very much off the beaten track. Not many tourists have been there, which makes it all the more worth visiting."

4. Paraguay

+ 23.1%

Why go? See above. Chris Moss also recommends hiking in the Parque Nacional Ybicuy, the last rainforest in the country, and taking a passenger boat ride down the Río Paraguay, from Asunción to Concepción – "take a rod and hook a huge dorado".

3. Qatar

+ 23.7%

The rise of Qatar

1996 327,000
2001 376,000
2006 946,000
2007 964,000
2008 1,405,000
2009 1,482,000
2010 1,700,000
2011 2,057,000
2012 2,346,000
2013 2,611,000
2014 2,826,000
2015 2,930,000

Why go? Christine Gerber Rutt, our Qatar expert, writes : "Doha, the capital and main city, changes exponentially every month. Luxury hotels, spas, world class restaurants, malls and architecturally unusual buildings sprout up constantly. Alongside the cutting-edge modernity, there’s still a chance to shop in vibrant souqs and markets, explore fascinating heritage sites and attend top-class equestrian events.

"Mild winters mean that visitors can enjoy outdoor activities whether it’s swimming in the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf, experiencing a taste of Bedouin life in the sand dunes or getting out into the mangroves by kayak."

2. Azerbaijan

+ 27.3%

Why go? BA ( ) flies to Baku, the Azeri capital, in under six hours.  The city is pretty bonkers . It contains a replica of Venice and the intriguing Museum of the Dwarf Book. 

1. Uganda

+ 36.7%

Why go? The country's biggest draw is wildlife - and most notably its mountain gorillas.  Read our expert guide to start planning your trip . 

Head to Uganda for close encounters with gorillasTop 10 countries tipped for a tourism boom

WTTC forecasts that the total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP will grow fastest over the next decade in the following countries:

10. Namibia

+ 6.6% per year

Why go? Nigel Richardson writes: "Of all the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa,  Namibia is arguably the most comprehensively tourist-friendly. Not only does it have exceptional wildlife – including a quarter of the world’s cheetahs and the last free-ranging population of black rhino – and a well-developed network of parks, reserves and safari lodges, but the landscapes of its coastline and deserts are some of the most photographed and gasped over in the world, meriting a visit in their own right."

 9. Lebanon

+ 6.8% per year

Why go? Large parts of the country are currently off-limits, but WTTC still believes Lebanon has huge tourism potential. Indeed, in Skyscanner's 2014 "Future of Travel" report, Dr Ian Yeoman, a “travel futurologist”, predicted that  Lebanon would become “the new Dubai” . Beirut, its capital, is considered by many to be among  the most exciting and welcoming cities on Earth

8. China

+ 7% per year

How tourism to China soared

1996 22,765,000
2001 33,167,000
2006 49,913,000
2007 54,720,000
2008 53,049,000
2009 50,875,000
2010 55,664,000
2011 57,581,000
2012 57,725,000
2013 55,686,000
2014 55,622,000
2015 56,900,000

Why go? Michelle Jana Chan,  author of our China travel guide, writes : "Some travel to China to marvel at the skylines of cranes, innovative architectural projects and the country’s artistic endeavours. They should head to the financial and commercial hub of Shanghai, as well as to Beijing’s Olympic Village and the capital’s contemporary art district, housed in a former munitions factory, and called 798. Others will be keen to learn more about China’s 5,000-year-old civilisation. That is best viewed through the country’s museums and monuments, from the first emperor’s Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an to Beijing’s Forbidden City, which served as the imperial palace from the Ming dynasty until the end of the Qing dynasty." 

7. Mozambique

+ 7% per year

Why go? Its seaside hotspots are driving the country's tourism boom. On the Pemba peninsula in the north, a five-star resort, Diamonds Mequfi Beach ( ), opened last summer. In the south, new top-end accommodation includes Colina Verde ( ), with its wild coastal panoramas, nearby Machangulo Beach Lodge ( ), which offers game drives and fabulous diving, and barefoot luxury Anvil Bay ( ) launching in December.

6. Tanzania

+ 7.1% per year

Why go? As well as the wildebeest (see above), you might get a  close-up with a curious cheetah . 

5. Vietnam

+ 7.2% per year

Why go? In addition to the aforementioned attractions, there's the utterly mesmerising Halong Bay. 

4. Zambia

+ 7.4% per year

Why go? To marvel at Victoria Falls, and stay at some of the continent's finest safari camps, including Chongwe ( ) and Royal Zambezi Lodge ( )

3. India

+ 7.5% per year

Why go?  Gill Charlton, our India expert, writes : "Without question, India is the most engaging, colourful, chaotic, spiritual and life-affirming country in the world. It is an assault on the senses – all of them, nearly all of the time.I have been visiting the country for 25 years and still find myself full of wonder at the diversity of its cultural riches, from temple sculptures and murals that rival the best of the Italian Renaissance to the artistry of ordinary people in a land where much is still made by hand."

 2. Myanmar

+ 7.7% per year

Why go? For those reasons listed above. It's also home to a python that's believed to be the reincarnation of a monk,  perhaps the most beautiful river cruise ship in the world, and  the beer costs 30p a glass . 

1. Kyrgyzstan

+ 8.2% per year

Why go? Adventurous horseback riders have long favoured this rugged country, partly because only riders can really access the fertile valleys and mountain passes. Rural Kyrgyzstan also allows visitors to meet nomadic families, who take to the high ground every summer. In the Saddle (01299 272997; ) organises group trips. Kyrgyzstan is opening up to community tourism – homestays and yurt stays can be organised through CBT (00996 312 54 00 69; ). High-altitude Lake Song-Köl offers stargazing while camping in a yurt.

The most visited destinations of 2015

And finally, the world's most visited destinations last year, according to UNWTO's confirmed figures or projections. Their attractions are so well known, we won't bother recounting them here.

The world's most visited countries

  France USA Spain China Italy Turkey Germany UK Mexico
1996 62,406,000 46,489,000 36,221,000 22,765,000 32,943,000 7,966,000 15,205,000 22,936,000 21,395,000
2001 75,202,000 46,927,000 48,565,000 33,167,000 39,563,000 10,783,000 17,861,000 20,982,000 19,810,000
2006 77,916,000 50,977,000 58,004,000 49,913,000 41,058,000 18,916,000 23,569,000 30,654,000 21,353,000
2007 80,853,000 56,135,000 58,666,000 54,720,000 43,654,000 26,122,000 24,421,000 30,870,000 21,606,000
2008 79,218,000 58,007,000 57,192,000 53,049,000 42,734,000 29,792,000 24,884,000 30,142,000 22,931,000
2009 76,764,000 55,103,000 52,178,000 50,875,000 43,239,000 30,187,000 24,220,000 28,199,000 22,346,000
2010 76,647,000 60,010,000 52,677,000 55,664,000 43,626,000 31,364,000 26,875,000 28,295,000 23,290,000
2011 80,499,000 62,821,000 56,177,000 57,581,000 46,119,000 34,654,000 28,374,000 29,306,000 23,403,000
2012 81,980,000 66,657,000 57,464,000 57,725,000 46,360,000 35,698,000 30,411,000 29,282,000 23,403,000
2013 83,634,000 69,995,000 60,675,000 55,686,000 47,704,000 37,795,000 31,545,000 31,063,000 24,151,000
2014 83,767,000 75,011,000 64,995,000 55,622,000 48,576,000 39,811,000 32,999,000 32,613,000 29,346,000
2015 86,300,000 77,900,000 68,100,000 56,900,000 50,800,000 39,300,000 35,000,000 33,900,000 32,100,000

10. Russia

31.6m visitors in 2015

9. Mexico


8. UK


7. Germany


6. Turkey


5. Italy


4. China


3. Spain


2. USA


1. France


Secret France


This article was written by Oliver Smith from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.