For the ninth year in a row, Hong Kong has held on to its crown as the planet’s most visited city.
Revealing the results of its 2017 Top 100 City Destinations survey, market researcher Euromonitor International says the Asian territory pulled in 26 million visitors in the previous year — a number predicted to swell to 44 million by 2025.
In the second place, with an impressive 21.25 million visitors in 2016 and annual growth of close to 10%, is Bangkok.
Its big-city rival London has been pushed firmly into third place, with 19.2 million visitors in 2016 and 19.8 million expected in 2017.
“Asian cities are dominating the Top 100 City Destinations, with 41 cities in 2017 and this is likely to reach 47 by 2025,” Wouter Geerts, senior travel analyst at Euromonitor and the report’s lead author, told the World Travel Market, an industry event in London where the report was released.
China remains the kingmaker when it comes to the rankings, with Hong Kong owing much of its success to its strategic position and relationship with the mainland.
Hong Kong saw a growth dip in 2017 as relations with mainland China became strained, but Euromonitor predicts this will be short-lived.
Seoul, meanwhile, saw a decline of nearly 15% in 2017 — with 7.66 million visitors expected — which Euromonitor attributes to tensions between South Korea and China.
The importance of cities for tourism has been growing steadily for years.
A total of 1.2 billion trips were taken worldwide last year, with visits to the top 100 cities accounting for almost half, at 46%.
More than half of all international visitors coming to the UK visit London, with the UK’s second most-visited city — Edinburgh — attracting less than 10% of London’s arrivals. The Scottish capital doesn’t even scratch the top 100.
The performance of European cities has been heavily affected by terrorism, with Brussels, Paris, Nice and Istanbul all registering impacted performances.
Heraklion, the capital of relatively stable Crete, is 2017’s biggest European winner, registering 11.2% growth and moving three places up the rankings to 66.
London registered 3.4% growth in 2017, despite recent terror attacks.
However, Euromonitor International’s head of travel and tourism research, Caroline Bremner, says terrorism is an issue that no major city can claim immunity from.
“You have to accept that terrorism affects all destinations so you have to make sure you don’t say you are safer or better than other destinations as this is not true,” she told an earlier discussion at the World Travel Market.
London’s international appeal has proved resilient in the face of recent attacks, and also the domestic turmoil resulting from Brexit.
In fact, confirmed Geerts, a weaker pound has left the country “attractive” to visitors.
A new report by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) this week confirmed London as the top city for visitor spending in Europe, with international visitors splashing in the region of $14.7 million in 2016.
As for the upcoming Brexit negotiations, Euromonitor predicts that a soft Brexit would be the best outcome for the UK tourism industry, while a No Deal Brexit would most likely be the most damaging option.
New York, with 13.1 million visitors expected in 2017, and Miami, with 8 million predicted, were the most popular cities in the Americas with international visitors.
The United States dominated the rankings among cities in the Americas but, warns Euromonitor, “global unease” following Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House makes future performance uncertain.
The cities showing the strongest growth in 2017 were all outside of the United States with Cancun, Toronto, Mexico City, Vancouver and Punta Cana leading the way.
While the United States remains the largest source market, Mexico is becoming increasingly popular with visitors from Europe and Asia — although recent reports have pointed to a decline in US visitors due to drug cartel violence.
The Middle East and Africa
Dubai, with 11.2% growth and 17 million visitors expected this year, and Mecca, with 9.8% growth and 8.7 million expected, was 2017’s biggest winners in this region.
Johannesburg is the only sub-Saharan African city to make it into the top 100, but Euromonitor praises African efforts to open borders at a time when other countries are closing theirs.
The African passport, launched in July 2016, allows holders to travel visa-free to all 53 member states, while last year Ghana started to offer visas upon arrival for all AU member states.
The top 25 most visited in 2016, and visitor predictions for 2017, are listed below.
Top cities for international tourists