A visit to one of the world’s major urban centres has lost none of its appeal, but which cities attract the most tourists?

The numbers of international visitors travelling to over 600 metropolitan destinations - including both business and leisure arrivals - have been compiled in a new report by Euromonitor International in its annual Top 100 City Destinations 2018 report. To create a more accurate picture of tourism, the survey excludes some traveller types, such as domestic visitors, day trippers, people in transit and cruise passengers.

The appeal of Asia

Hong Kong remains the planet’s most popular city destination, with inbound tourist numbers expected to exceed 30 million before the end of the year. Visitor numbers grew 7% in 2018, up from 5% the previous year.

The Asian city’s location and ease of access make it a magnet for visitors from mainland China, which accounts for over half of expected visitor numbers.

Image: Euromonitor International

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Six of the top 10 most-visited cities are Asian. Bangkok comes second with over 23 million visitors in 2018, up 5.5% year on year.

Singapore is in fourth position and Macau comes in fifth, as it exploits its appeal as the Las Vegas of Asia. Macau draws tourists from across the region and further afield, and has benefited from several major infrastructure projects which have made the enclave more accessible.

Further down the ranking, the business hub of Shenzhen serves as an overland route between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Many of these Asian cities serve as regional transport hubs - particularly Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

The old favourites

Outside of Asia, the UK’s weak pound contributed to London becoming the third most visited tourist city, with arrivals exceeding 20 million in 2018, an increase of 4.5% on the previous year.

Neighbouring Paris dropped from fifth to sixth spot despite visitor numbers growing by 6.5%.

In the Middle East the city destination of Dubai reached sixth position, ahead of the pilgrimage site of Mecca which comes in at 21st out of 100. Dubai’s visitor numbers exceeded 16.5 million, but increasingly tourism is spreading throughout the emirates, with resorts springing up in several locations along the Gulf coastline.

New York, in eighth, position is the lone representative of the Americas in the top 10 list, with its closest rival, Miami, in 22nd spot. The Big Apple’s visitor numbers increased 3.1% in 2018 as it welcomed 13.5 million visitors.

Who are the global big spenders?

While global arrivals are forecast to hit 1.4 billion people in 2018 – a growth rate of 5% – trips to the world’s top 100 cities are expected to increase by 7.5%.

The rise of city hubs is most pronounced in Asia, where 41 of the world’s top 100 city destinations are located.

Asian spending growth in city destinations is reflected in wider tourist receipts. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), newly affluent travellers from China account for almost one fifth of the 1.34 billion that the world tourism industry spent in 2017. China’s tourist spending reached more than $257 billion in that year, followed by travellers from the US who spent $135 billion.

In total, Asia Pacific tourists accounted for 25% of world outbound travel, but the region was out-travelled by Europeans who accounted for almost half (48%) of global tourism trips.

What’s fuelling the rise in tourism?

Growing affluence in emerging economies like China and India is working alongside the accessibility of air travel and lower visa requirements to fuel tourism.

The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 points to a growing share of international visitors travelling from and going to emerging and developing nations. China is set to overtake France as the world’s leading tourist destination by 2030, for example.

While economic globalization has been taken to task by some world leaders recently, the travel industry continues to open doors to new destinations and cultures, boosting connectivity.

However, growing visitor numbers are causing issues for some destinations where over-tourism has caused environmental damage.

Increasingly, emphasis needs to be given to creating a sustainable tourism sector that considers the long-term impact of its actions on the environment.