The Most Visited Cities In The World

Ana B. Remos

Asian and Middle Eastern cities among the most popular destinations in the world.

The 2013 Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index was unveiled earlier this year with some surprising facts. The Index was created in 2010 by Mastercard to provide data that will be useful to study emerging markets through the travel industry. This valuable list presents us with information about the airports with the highest volume of international departures and arrivals, and the contributions these travelers bring to the local economies. These expenditures are calculated by the ‘Travel Component’ of the ‘Trade in Services’ department of the United Nations to estimate how much the natives of each country spend abroad. Of course, like in most indexes, there is a margin of error that cannot be avoided, but the list is as close to reality as possible.

Furthermore, the Index reports the most visited cities and develops statistics on how travel is affecting global emerging markets. The international tourism industry is becoming more vital worldwide because the travelers and their consequential spending are reliable and powerful stimulants for the local industries and cultures, especially those of the nations, which may have very little if any other type of exports.

Sao Paolo
Dubai. Photo: tanjakrstevska / 123RF Stock Photo.

For the first time, it seems that Asian and Middle Eastern countries are on the rise with Bangkok at the number one spot for most international arrivals, making it the most visited airport in the world. Historically, European destinations have held this position. That is why it is so surprising to see Thailand take the lead this year. Asian countries have been affected, in the past, by market crashes and other significant fluctuations as was the case in 2009 and 2011. Bangkok is followed by London and Paris, both in Europe, and by Singapore, New York, Istanbul, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong, in that order, the majority of which are located in Asia and the Middle East.

One important fact we should consider is that we are not seeing a decline in travel to the West, but an astonishing up rise in the East. With the anomaly of Bangkok overtaking London’s number one place by a very small margin, the top ten spots remain the same as the past year, with the exception of a decline in arrivals in Paris and an increase in most Asian/Middle Eastern cities. The key findings in terms of air travel connectivity as shown in the Mastercard Global Destination Index database are as follows:

• The 12 cities with the fastest increase in air travel connectivity are located east and south of Istanbul, with the exception of Moscow.
• Dubai shows the strongest growth (along with Bangkok) in arrivals, with an increase of 10.9 percent.
• International visitor arrivals grew almost twice as fast as the world real GDP, and the cross- border spending grew by over 2.3 percent.
• The lineup of overnight visitors in North America in 2013 is unchanged from the previous year with New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Toronto at the top spots.
• Although Lima has the highest growth rate, Mexico City is the top-ranked destination in Latin America with 3.1 million international visitor arrivals estimated for 2013.
• The theory is also that cities that are strongly connected to destinations with sound economies and a large appetite for travel will eventually flourish.

Sao Paolo
Sao Paolo. Photo: Jon Bor / 123RF Stock Photo.

Now, in terms of overnight visiting expenditures, results show that New York City holds the top spot with $18.59 billion; London at number two with $16.3 billion; followed by Paris, Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Dubai, Sydney, and Barcelona. Here, we also see the southern countries beginning to infiltrate where European countries have always been the strongest. The spending ranks are a direct manifestation of the way the cost of living is notably rising in these areas, mainly in Asia. We can conclude that when cities allow more flights to come in from different countries, luring travelers for business or pleasure, spending in said cities increases, and the more desirable destinations also see an increase in the cost of living.

One final, but significant surprise, is the absence of South American destinations in any of the lists. Although Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro are two of the fastest growing cities in the world (see Goldman Sachs’ BRIC), they have not yet made it to the Mastercard Index. Sao Paolo holds the third place in overnight stays and overnight expenditures in South America, which reached a record $2 billion, but this is still not enough to put it in the top 10 since the ranking includes cities with up to seven times that amount. We project a change for Brazilian tourism in the coming years, when the South American giant hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the most popular sports event in the world. Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympic Games.

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