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Top 150 City Destinations: London Leads the Way

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Euromonitor International is pleased to release the results of its first Top 150 City Destinations Ranking, providing insight into the the world's leading and most dynamic cities in terms of tourist arrivals.

London ranked top in Euromonitor International's Top 150 City Destinations. The British capital received an impressive 15.6 million international visitors in 2006, far above other world capitals such as Bangkok, Paris, Singapore or New York.

The 150 leading world destinations accounted for 27% of the global inbound tourism in terms of arrivals. Cities are the key driver of growth in the tourism industry, benefiting from the development of the air industry and the investment in infrastructure and iconic buildings. From Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum to Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers, the new skylines of cities attract millions of tourists to their airports and hotels, boosting the tourism industry to unprecedented levels.

With China emerging as a key travel and tourism market, the prospect of city tourism cannot help but look East. Will London resist the push?

London storms ahead of the pack

London attracted 15.6 million international visitors in 2006 to rank first in Euromonitor International's Top 150 City Destinations. The gap between the UK capital and other major cities increased as the presence of tourists in London's streets increased by 13% up on 2005.

Bangkok (2), Paris (3) and Singapore (4) follow London respectively, with around ten million tourists each. Hong Kong ranked 5th with 8 million, while the six-million-club included New York (6), Dubai (7) and Rome (8).

In 2006, 27 cities received more than 3 million international arrivals and 67 cities over a million. Overall, these 150 cities received 237 million tourists, accounting for 27% of the world's inbound tourism flows. The top150 cities received 6% more tourists than in 2005.

Top 150 City Destinations 2006

City Ranking '000 tourist arrivals
London 1 15,640
Bangkok 2 10,350
Paris 3 9,700
Singapore 4 9,502
Hong Kong 5 8,139
New York City 6 6,219
Dubai 7 6,120
Rome 8 6,033
Seoul 9 4,920
Barcelona 10 4,695
Dublin 11 4,469
Bahrain 12 4,418
Shanghai 13 4,315
Toronto 14 4,160
Kuala Lumpur 15 4,125
Istanbul 16 3,994
Madrid 17 3,921
Amsterdam 18 3,901
Mecca 19 3,800
Prague 20 3,702
Moscow 21 3,695
Beijing 22 3,593
Vienna 23 3,339
Taipei 24 3,280
St.Petersburg 25 3,200
Cancun 26 3,074
Macau 27 3,072
Venice 28 2,927
Warsaw 29 2,925
Mexico 30 2,823
Los Angeles 31 2,513
Guangzhou 32 2,512
Benidorm 33 2,457
Berlin 34 2,309
Rio De Janeiro 35 2,185
Budapest 36 2,043
San Francisco 37 1,993
Orlando 38 1,993
Miami 39 1,972
Munich 40 1,925
Shenzen 41 1,904
Milan 42 1,902
Sydney 43 1,852
Oahu/Honolulu 44 1,733
Cairo 45 1,720
Florence 46 1,715
Lisbon 47 1,715
Las Vegas 48 1,647
Hangzhou 49 1,562
Marrakesh 50 1,500
Tokyo 51 1,467
Abu Dhabi 52 1,459
Varadero 53 1,448
Copenhagen 54 1,375
Zurich 55 1,369
Edinburgh (GB) 56 1,338
Cape Town 57 1,323
Zhuhai 58 1,318
Suzhou 59 1,286
Seville 60 1,234
Nice 61 1,227
São Paulo 62 1,095
Washington DC 63 1,062
Chicago 64 1,062
Guilin 65 1,021
Stockholm 66 1,003
Tallinn 67 1,001
Boston 68 997
Krakow 69 992
La Havana 70 953
Salvador de Bahia 71 935
Melbourne 72 923
Manchester (GB) 73 912
Salzburg (City) 74 874
Tianjin 75 850
Nanjing 76 843
Helsinki 77 842
Xi'an 78 801
Qingdao 79 795
Xiamen 80 792
Birmingham (GB) 81 779
Glasgow (GB) 82 741
Hamburg 83 739
Lyon 84 715
Montreal 85 679
Mumbai 86 672
Dalian 87 666
San Diego 88 650
Bruges 89 641
Antwerp 90 636
Liverpool (GB) 91 625
New Delhi 92 612
Valencia 93 611
Kunming 94 607
Granada 95 606
Wuxi 96 594
Chennai 97 588
Geneva 98 577
Agra 99 560
Chongquing 100 544
Innsbruck 101 536
Oslo 102 522
Chengdu 103 508
Fortaleza 104 503
Atlanta 105 477
Houston 106 455
Bratislava 107 455
Oxford (GB) 108 449
Foz do Iguacu 109 438
Gothenburg 110 422
San Jose 111 412
Luxembourg City 112 406
Bristol (GB) 113 403
Buenos Aires 114 395
Reykjavik 115 371
Nürnberg 116 356
Naples 117 356
Buzios 118 355
Cardiff (GB) 119 355
Cambridge (GB) 120 348
Seattle 121 325
Newcastle-upon-Tyne 122 317
Florianópolis 123 314
Monaco 124 313
Leeds 125 292
Brighton/Hove 126 265
Ghent 127 261
York 128 253
Inverness 129 252
Heidelberg 130 245
Bath 131 245
Dijon 132 242
Genova 133 239
Dresden 134 227
Reims 135 226
Nottingham 136 219
Graz 137 206
Reading 138 202
Goa 139 200
Linz 140 199
Bilbao 141 198
Aberdeen 142 195
Marseille 143 180
Chester 144 173
Jerusalem 145 165
Saragossa 146 159
Tarragona 147 154
Malmö 148 131
Bregenz 149 96
Turku 150 87
World Tourism Organisation, European Cities Tourism, National Statistics, National Tourist Boards, Local Tourism & Convention Bureaux, Trade Press (local and national newspapers, The Economist, Business Travel News), Euromonitor International.
Mainland China’s cities exclude visits from Hong Kong and Macao (and vice versa), but include visitors from Taiwan.

Iconic buildings, newer cities

Paris (3), New York (6), Rome (8), Prague (20) or Vienna (23) are all cities that have historically attracted millions of tourists and continue to do so. However, the most striking element of Euromonitor International's Top City Destinations ranking is the dynamism of emerging destinations such as Dubai (7), Shanghai (13) and Beijing (22). Cities all across the world are reshaping their skylines in order to jump places in the race for the world's Top Destination and tourists flock by air to visit them.

In Asia, cities such as Kuala Lumpur (15), Taipei (24) or Shanghai (13), looked to the heights to revamp their skylines. Some of the world's tallest buildings are being built on the continent. In the Middle East, Dubai (7) opened the world tallest hotel, the eye-catching Burj Al Arab Hotel in 1999. The Gulf city also created the three largest artificial islands in the world, aptly named The World, to provide the city with luxury properties, hotels and leisure centres alongside 520kms of beaches. Abu Dhabi (52) is expected to open branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums.

Likewise, in North America, new iconic buildings are planned across the country. Seattle has recently commissioned a new library from the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas; while Milwaukee plans to open a new Modern Art Museum by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who also built Wisconsin's brand new airport. All across the globe, cities flaunt their museums and eye-catching skyscrapers to woo foreign tourists. Architecture not only shows the dynamism and spirit of a city, but investing in iconic buildings has proved to be one of the major drivers of tourism in recent years.

Spain, from the beach to city destination – an urban transformation

One of the most impressive urban facelifts in recent years is that of Spain. The country's tourism - which used to rely on its beaches and was showing signs of saturation - went through an intense revamp in the 1990s to overtake the US as the second most visited country in 2001.

Barcelona's 1992 Olympic Games, not only transformed the city and the country, but marked the path for many other cities. The Catalan city wisely transformed its old town, invested heavily in infrastructure and developed a whole new city on the wave of the Olympics, attracting millions of tourists that continue to flock to Barcelona's busy streets. The country also hosted that year the Universal Expo in Seville.

In the late 1990s, a new branch of the Guggenheim Museum radically transformed Bilbao (141) attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world. Frank Gerhy's building showed the world how one single building could set cities firmly on the international map.

Valencia (93), with its City of Arts and Science and its brand new Opera House, both work of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, expects to jump many places in the ranking in 2007, after hosting the 32nd American Cup in summer 2006. In 2008, Zaragoza (146) will host the World Expo, which will leave iconic buildings in the city, such as an impressive bridge pavillion by Pritzker awarded architect, Zaha Hadid.

City tourism – an air matter

Airports are the gateway to the 21st century's cities. Without the development of airports and Low Cost Carriers (LCCs), tourists across the world would have never dreamt of affordable city breaks and weekends abroad. Nowadays, it is cheap, quick and the offer of where to go has never been wider or as attractive.

European leading LCCs, easyJet and Ryanair, continue to increase their list of destinations to include North African cities such as Marrakesh (50), whose number of international tourists grew by over 30% in 2006, and expects similar growth rates in coming years. Joining the capitals' club, including the likes of Paris, Madrid, Rome and Amsterdam, many Europeans can now opt to visit hundreds of cities such as Trieste, Malmo or Grenoble, cities that never before were accessible for most of Europeans when planning their weekends away.

European cities account for 45% of the arrivals of the Top 150 Cities. However, only five European cities ranked in the Top 25 Cities in terms of air passenger numbers. This contrasts with the presence of fifteen North American cities, although only New York ranks within the top 25 most visited cities. The discrepancy reflects the fact that the US remains largely a domestic market, however this scenario could be about to change as the new “open skies” agreement between the EU and the US, signed last April, is implemented.

The liberalisation of the air traffic between North America and Europe could bring up to 26 million additional passengers . In June 2006, Canada's Zoom Airlines launched low cost flights between the two continents. Ryanair is also set to launch a transatlantic airline that could operate from Ryanair's 23 European bases by 2010. Nevertheless, the current debate on green house gas emissions and the impact of air traffic on global warming could yet shape the outlook of air transportation.

Top 25 Cities by Number of Air Passengers

Airport Ranking '000 Passengers
London 1 1 127,747
New York 2 2 106,486
Tokyo 3 3 100,785
Paris 4 4 85,349
Atlanta 5 84,846
Chicago 6 77,028
Los Angeles 7 61,041
Dallas 8 60,226
Frankfurt 9 52,810
Beijing 10 48,654
Denver 11 47,325
Las Vegas 12 46,193
Amsterdam 13 46,065
Madrid 14 45,501
Hong Kong 15 43,857
Bangkok 16 42,799
Houston 17 42,550
Phoenix 18 41,436
Detroit 19 35,972
Minneapolis 20 35,612
Singapore 21 35,033
Orlando 22 34,640
San Francisco 23 33,574
Miami 24 32,533
Philadelphia 25 31,768
Euromonitor International
1) includes Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick and City Airports, 2) includes JFK, La Gaurdia and Newark Airports, 3) includes Haneda and Narita’s Airports, 4) includes Paris Charles De Gaulle-Roissy, Paris Orly and Paris Beauvais Airports

Financial hubs and MICE tourism

Although 80% of inbound arrivals to cities are tourists, MICE travel (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) is increasingly important for cities, not only because of the higher per capita expenditure of MICE travellers, but also because of its promotional impact. From Dubai (4) to Tallinn (64) or Valencia (84), international events have helped to set cities firmly on the map of the world's leading destinations. Investment in convention centres, hotels and travel infrastructure cannot be judged solely in terms of MICE activity, but instead as part of an integrated tourism strategy.

The globalisation of the world economy has also had a positive impact on city travel, especially with regard to global financial centres. Despite new technologies, the world financial centres of London and New York (ranked first and sixth respectively), far from dying out, have continued to attract more businesses, thus, increasing the amount of business travel to these financial clusters. Furthermore, other cities have followed suit, becoming important financial hubs. Shanghai (13), Hong Kong (5), Singapore(4) and Dubai (7) have entered the list of global financial hubs according to The Economist, alongside long-established powerhouse such as Tokyo (51), Zurich (55) or Geneva (98).

Can London attract even more tourists for the 2012 Olympics?

Top 10 Cities by Number of Meetings 2006

City Number of meetings
Paris 1 363
Vienna 2 316
Singapore 3 298
Brussels 4 179
Geneva 5 169
Helsinki 6 140
Barcelona 7 139
London 8 118
Amsterdam 9 117
New York 10 93
Euromonitor International, ICCA

London stands out as the world's leading city, with nearly as many tourists as Paris and New York put together. Furthermore, its airports received as many passengers as Paris and Frankfurt combined in 2006. In 2012 the UK capital will host the Olympic Games but can London cope with more arrivals?

Heathrow's brand new Terminal 5, due to open in March 2008, will allow London to handle a further 30 million passengers per year , providing much needed relief to its overcrowded airports. The fact that the two leading European LCCs have their largest base in the British capital, easyJet and Ryanair, will also grant millions of tourists from all across Europe access to London within a 2hrs flight. However, it remains to be send if tourists that have discovered London in recent years will repeat their experience again as the number of routes within continental Europe expands.

The additional travel time required upon arriving at one of London's airports into Central London from any of London's Airports, coupled with the extra hour needed to pass through stricter security checks, could make trips to London a less than pleasant experience for tourists. Kitty Ussher, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, claimed London's airports were discouraging business executives from travelling to the UK.

Even Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, said that London Heathrow's Airport shamed the capital. Nevertheless, the vibrant and dynamic cultural scene, with its theatres and museums, shopping and financial district should encourage international visitors to continue to flock to London's many attractions. Nevertheless, London's authorities should invest wisely if they want to capitalise on the 2012 Olympic Games.

Chinese cities are set to pounce

Even if London manages to cling onto the top city spot for 2012, what seems clear is that the Top 150 City Tourism ranking will change radically in the next five years as tourism in China continues to grow and the number of flights to and from China rockets. Not only Chinese cities will outperform many others destinations in the ranking, but the economic development within China will prompt an increasing number of Chinese tourists to travel abroad as disposable incomes rise.

Shanghai (13) and Beijing (22) are both set to enter the Top 10 in 2008, when the latter will host the summer Olympic Games. However, in the longer term, the major impact of China will not be on the supply side, but instead on demand for city tourism. Asian capitals, such as Bangkok, Singapore and Seoul, alongside many Chinese towns, will benefit from the increasing purchasing power of the new Chinese middle classes. The future of city tourism will increasingly look eastwards in the future, as China will begin to emerge as a key player in global travel and tourism.

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