Euromonitor International is pleased to release its annual Top City Destinations Ranking, covering 100 of the world’s leading cities in terms of international tourist arrivals. Arrivals continued to grow in global urban centres in 2015, illustrating the continued economic importance of tourism to the world’s largest cities. Once again, the top cities outperformed global travel flows, with inbound city arrivals to the top 100 cities growing by 5.5% between 2014 and 2015. This is compared to global inbound arrivals growing by 4.3% in the same period.
Top 10 City Destinations Ranking
International arrivals (‘000s)
% Increase 2014/2015
|Hong Kong||Hong Kong, China||Asia Pacific||27,770.5||26,686.0||
|Dubai||United Arab Emirates||Middle East and Africa||13,200.0||14,260.0||
|9||New York City||US||North America||12,230.0||12,300.0||
|10||Kuala Lumpur||Malaysia||Asia Pacific||11,629.6||12,153.0||
Source: Euromonitor International
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Chinese travellers determine success and failure of Asian cities
Hong Kong remained the top city destination by some margin, despite falling arrivals. The close proximity to and rapidly rising disposable incomes in China mean that Hong Kong remains a key destination for Chinese travellers. However, Hong Kong faces increasing difficulties in maintaining its attractiveness, especially amongst younger Chinese travellers, amid rising tensions between Hong Kong residents and the Chinese ruling party. A decade of rapid growth in arrivals from China came to a halt in 2015, with the number of visitors from the country falling by 6%.
Macau is another city highly dependent on Chinese travellers, but registering falling arrivals after years of strong growth. In 2015, arrivals declined by 1.8% as the Chinese authorities cracked down on corruption and illegal activity on the gambling tables that Macau is famous for. This reduced the number of VIP gamblers, which had a direct impact on gaming revenues and on the tourism market as a whole.
Two countries benefiting greatly from the declining popularity of Hong Kong and Macau were Thailand and Japan. Thailand was further boosted by a more stable political situation, which had suppressed growth in 2014. Bangkok benefited with growth of 10% in international arrivals, resulting in a jump to be ranked as the second largest city. It is likely Bangkok would have registered even stronger growth, but for the Erewan Shrine bombing in August 2015, which saw several countries, including Singapore and the Philippines, issue travel advice urging citizens to take all necessary precautions for personal safety when they are in Thailand.
Another five Thai cities are present in the top 100, with Chiang Mai in particular showing a strong performance. The number of arrivals to the city grew by 40% between 2014 and 2015, albeit from a much smaller base than Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya. Chiang Mai is a northern city especially popular between December and February, when the climate is cool and plants are in bloom.
Japanese cities saw even more impressive growth than their Thai counterparts. The number of Chinese visitors travelling to Japan almost doubled in 2015, with Chinese visitors surpassing travellers from South Korea as the most important source market. The Japanese government is strongly focused on increasing the number of inbound tourists, with this being a major goal in the build-up to Tokyo hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020. Strong promotional campaigns, a weak yen, easing visa regulations and the October 2014 deregulation of tax-free shopping all attracted mainly Asian tourists to Japan.
Cities including Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto benefited greatly from this rise in arrivals. Tokyo rose six places to rank 17th, and Osaka and Kyoto made considerable jumps to rank 55 and 89, respectively. These cities benefit from the popular Golden Route, which sees overseas tourists arrive in Tokyo, and travelling to Kyoto and Osaka via Mount Fuji. Other cities are also expected to show strong growth in the future, as decentralisation is a strong focus for the Japan National Tourism Organisation. Nagoya and Fukuoka saw strong growth, but did not make it into the top 100. This might change as Nagoya is a central destination in the new Dragon Route introduced in 2015, while Fukuoka is turning into a major cruise hub for Chinese travellers looking to shop.
London facing uncertain times
London closes out the top three of the ranking, with international arrivals growing just short of 7% in 2015. Arrivals were boosted by England’s hosting of the Rugby World Cup in September 2015. Despite this positive result, there are many question marks surrounding London and the UK. The UK’s decision to leave the EU has led to high levels of uncertainty, casting dark shadows over the UK economy. The depreciation of sterling will constrain the UK outbound market significantly, but is expected to result in a bumper year for London inbound tourism in 2016.
What will follow for London is uncertain, but 2017 will likely see the triggering of Article 50, and if a disorderly Brexit follows (where the EU and UK do not come to an agreement), Euromonitor International’s macro model points at a recession in 2017 and to potentially 2 million fewer international arrivals to the UK by 2020. The long-awaited decision by the UK parliament to back the building of a third runway at Heathrow Airport might provide much-needed additional capacity, but this will come too late to compensate for the potential Brexit fallout.
Geopolitical turmoil and terrorism impacting the Middle East
A number of cities, including Cancun, Sharm el Sheik and Antalya, saw a strong decline in Russian arrivals as the financial collapse of the Russian ruble continued. Russian arrivals registered a 13% decline to Turkey, especially impacting beach destinations like Antalya and Mugla. The war in Syria, increasing terrorist attacks in Turkey during the summer of 2015 and a deteriorating political image since the Gezi protests further exacerbated the declining arrivals trend. Istanbul performed well, especially with business travellers, but, with the 2016 bombing of Atatürk Airport, the military coup and the New Year’s Eve attack, 2016 arrivals are expected to fall sharply.
The October bombing involving a Russian plane stopped tourism to Egypt in its tracks due to the introduction of travel bans and negative advisories. Many Russian and European tourists opted to go elsewhere for the remainder of the year as a result of security concerns, and Egypt is expected to continue to struggle in 2016. Sharm el Sheik in particular, the departure city of the doomed airplane, saw the effects of tour operators axing flights to the city, resulting in a decline of 7.5% in inbound arrivals in 2015.
Tunisia also fell on hard times following multiple terrorist attacks in 2015, including at a museum in Tunis in March and the shooting on the beach of a well-known resort in Sousse in June 2015. The impact on tourism was unprecedented and the worst experienced by the country. Jerba is the only Tunisian city in the top 100 ranking, but all cities in the country registered double-digit declines, with Sousse experiencing a decline of 61% compared to 2014.
Western Europe tourism shaped by terrorist attacks
The Middle East was not the only region impacted by terrorist attacks. Paris saw the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015, and the attack on the Bataclan and other areas of Paris at the end of 2015. Arrivals data from early 2016 shows that the November attack had a significant impact, but, due to the smaller scale of the January attack, Paris arrivals only declined marginally in 2015. A slight impact was also felt at Marne-La-Vallée, the home of Disneyland, just 10 kilometres outside Paris.
Beyond Paris, two other cities that can expect declines in 2016 are Nice and Brussels. Both cities were targeted by terrorists in 2016, with Brussels and nearby Zaventem experiencing bombings in March 2016, and Nice having to come to terms with the cargo truck attack in July 2016.
Signs of resilience
Despite these attacks, tourism remains highly resilient. Countries with a comparable offering to France, Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia saw booming international arrivals. Especially Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy attracted growing numbers of visitors. With the exception of Heraklion on Crete and Rhodes, which continued to be impacted by the continuing migrant crisis, all cities in these countries showed strong growth.
While 2015 was marked by various negative events in Greece, such as the political instability caused by the country’s lengthy negotiation with its lenders over the first half of the year, the imposition of capital controls and the 5 July referendum, Athens had another record year, with arrivals growing by 22.6% in 2015. In order to attract tourists from new countries in Europe during the winter period, Athens International Airport, along with Marketing Greece, launched a promotional campaign called “Speak Athenian. Be an Athenian”, to promote Athens as a city-break destination. Trivago ranked Athens as one of the cheapest and 24th of the 50 most popular European Christmas destinations in 2015.
In Italy, Rome remained the favourite city with 9.6 million trips in 2015, but Milan performed strongly thanks to the Expo Milano 2015. The Expo event counted more than 21 million visitors and it attracted many international arrivals, especially during the summer months. In Spain, Barcelona and Madrid performed well, despite growing protests (especially in Barcelona) against the negative impacts of mass tourism.
Health scares impact demand
International arrivals to Seoul fell in 2015 due to the spread of MERS, with arrivals particularly impacted from June to August, as the number of patients affected by MERS rose rapidly. Chinese and Japanese tourists account for the majority of inbound arrivals to South Korea, but MERS and the weak yen decreased South Korea’s attractiveness. The South Korean government was keen to boost inbound tourism by holding a Korean version of Black Friday and by offering taxation benefits to international visitors, but this initiative was unable to turn round the negative performance.
Another pandemic, the Zika virus, potentially impacted arrivals to Brazil. The country, however, had to cope with other factors – including an economic downturn and the absence of a mega-event in 2015 – which impacted inbound arrivals. While Rio de Janeiro was the fastest-growing city in last year’s ranking (mainly due to the 2014 World Cup), in 2015 the city dropped out of the ranking again due to a 28% fall in international arrivals. The city might bounce back in 2016 with the Olympic Games, which, despite Zika and issues around the organisation of the event, was generally seen as a success.
Middle East cities perform strongly, Africa remains underrepresented
The Middle East and Africa region has 12 cities in the top 100, with the vast majority in the Middle East and North Africa. Johannesburg is the only city from the rest of the African continent which makes it into the ranking.
Top performer for the region is Dubai, which ranks seventh and continued to see steady growth in 2015, with an 8% increase in inbound arrivals. The city is benefitting from years of extensive investment in state-of-the-art and world-leading infrastructure, luxury shopping, hotels and entertainment.
Mecca in Saudi Arabia was the strongest performer in the region, as 2015 saw strong growth in the number of religious tourists flocking to the city. Overall arrivals to Saudi Arabia stalled, however, which led the government to launch the Post-Umrah Programme, an initiative which allows pilgrims to convert their visas into tourist visas, in the hope that religious visitors extend their stay in the country. Umrah visa holders are no longer restricted to only visiting Mecca and Al Madinah, and can also see the country’s landmarks, historical sites, tourist attractions and shopping centres.
Cities in Americas benefit from stability in the region
No major news stories impacting tourism in North America meant that city arrivals in the US and Canada grew steadily across the board. New York City, the top destination for international travellers in the Americas, was hit hardest by the strong US dollar compared to other currencies, but the city still showed slight growth and remained in the top 10. Whether, and how, the Trump election will impact arrivals to the US (and possibly Canada as a substitute destination for travellers from across the Atlantic) will be seen in the 2016 and 2017 arrivals.
In Latin America, one of the top performers was Lima, with growth of 9% in 2015. The city is benefitting from the improvement of the Peruvian economy and the increasing international recognition of Peru as a travel destination. In 2015, Peru was awarded, for the fourth time in a row, “Best Culinary Destination in the World” and “Best Cultural Destination in South America” by the World Travel Awards, raising positive awareness of the country and city.
The two Mexican cities in the top 100, Cancún and Mexico City, registered considerable drops. This is not, however, representative of the country as a whole, which is actually seeing strong growth in international arrivals. One of the challenges for Mexico is finding ways to spread the economic benefits of tourism more evenly throughout the country. Towards that end, the government has been promoting a variety of destinations beyond popular resorts like Cancún and Cabo San Lucas. Instead, other cities have been heavily promoted to both business and leisure tourists, including Queretaro, Tijuana, Mexicali and Ixtapa Zihuatanejo.
In the case of Cancún specifically, another factor is that Playa del Carmen has stolen some share. Playa del Carmen has become a trendy destination in the last few years, is about an hour away from Cancún, and has a more laidback reputation. More so than a few years ago, a lot of travellers fly into Cancún and then proceed on to Playa del Carmen, instead of staying in Cancún. Nevertheless, Cancún remains the uncontested number one destination in Mexico.
Annual research programme
Euromonitor International's Top City Destinations Ranking (2015 edition) was built from the results of the global travel research programme conducted in 58 core countries by in-country analysts, which follows Euromonitor International’s methodology and definitions for travel and tourism.
City arrivals data were sourced directly from national statistics offices, airport arrivals, hotel/accommodation stays or other methods for all 58 core countries and 77 additional market insight countries under review.
Main secondary sources included: governmental, inter-governmental and other official sources; national and international specialist trade press and trade associations; industry study groups and other semi-official sources; and reports published by major operators, travel retailers, online databases and the financial, business and mainstream press. Trade interviews were conducted with national tourist offices, trade associations and travel operators to fill gaps in secondary research.
Country data was then cross-checked on a regional basis by the regional research teams based in London, Vilnius, Chicago, Dubai, Shanghai, Santiago and Singapore. Examples of regional sources reviewed include TourMis for European cities. Further top-down checks were conducted by the in-house global research team. Where irregularities were found between editions, supplementary research was conducted to confirm or amend those findings. Euromonitor International is satisfied that the results of the in-country research, coupled with the top-down global perspective, ensure that the Top City Destinations Ranking is robust, with a high level of data validation.
It is important to note that the Top City Destinations Ranking is not an exhaustive list and that its purpose is to highlight leading cities gleaned from the findings of Euromonitor International’s annual research programme, with the emphasis on cities, rather than popular holiday resorts.
|Data Research Method||City|
|Airport Arrivals||Agra, Chennai, Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkatta, Moscow, Mumbai, Punta Cana, Taichung, Taipei|
|Airport Arrivals and Hotel / Accommodation||Buenos Aires, Cairo, Sharm el-Sheikh|
|Hotel / Accommodation||Amsterdam, Berlin, Cancún, Jerba, Kuala Lumpur, Lima, Marrakech, Mexico City, Milan, Paris, Prague, Rome, Vienna|
|National Statistics Office||Athens, Auckland, Bangkok, Barcelona, Beijing, Brussels, Budapest, Chiang Mai, Denpasar, Doha, Dubai, Dublin, Florence, Frankfurt, Guangzhou, Hanoi, Halong, Heraklion, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Jakarta, Jeju, Jerusalem, Johor Bahru, Krabi, Krakow, Kyoto, Las Vegas, Lima, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Macau, Madrid, Manama, Mecca, Melbourne, Miami, Munich, New York City, Nice, Orlando, Osaka, Pattaya, Phuket, Rhodes, Riyadh, Samui, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Siem Reap, Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, Venice, Washington DC, Zhuhai|
|Other method||Antalya, Burgas, Edirne, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Marne-La-Vallée, Mugla, Pulau Pinang, Sofia, St Petersburg, Varna, Warsaw|
Chinese arrival inclusions
Overnight visitors from mainland China are included in the Hong Kong arrivals data. Overnight visitors from mainland China and Hong Kong are included in the Macau arrivals data. Overnight visitors from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are included in Chinese city arrivals data.
All countries/cities Excludes day trippers and domestic visitors
Singapore Includes Malaysian citizens arriving by land, but excludes same-day visitors
Saudi Arabia Official data are for provinces only
International arrivals by city includes visitors from abroad who arrive in the city under review as their first point of entry, and also includes those visitors to the city who arrived in the country via a different point of entry, but then go on to visit the city in question during their trip.
Arrivals refers to international tourists, ie any person visiting another country for at least 24 hours, for a period not exceeding 12 months, and staying in collective or private accommodation. Each arrival is counted separately and includes people travelling more than once a year and people visiting several countries during one holiday. Domestic visitors are excluded. This encompasses all purposes of visit, such as business, leisure and visiting friends and relatives.
Euromonitor International’s arrivals figures exclude same-day visitors, people in transit and cruise passengers as this can distort arrival figures at important border crossings and cruise destinations, respectively. It also excludes those in paid employment abroad. Students that stay in a country for a period of more than 12 months are excluded and are considered as temporary residents. Military personnel and transportation crew are excluded, along with displaced people because of war or natural disasters.
The ranking focuses on capital city hubs and tends to exclude beach and ski resorts that may enjoy high volumes of international visitors.
Useful reference: http://www.euromonitor.com/travel
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