Travel and Tourism

These are the world's five most-visited cities

A golden age for tourism in cities such as Bangkok

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Formative Content
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Travel and Tourism?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Travel and Tourism is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Travel and Tourism

The global travel and tourism industry is worth an estimated $8.8 trillion a year and much of that growing economic activity is concentrated among a narrow group of destinations.

In its Global Destination Cities Index 2019, which tracks visitors and their spending habits, Mastercard found that numbers were up by an average 6.5% year-over-year since 2009, with tourism expenditure growing up an average of 7.4%.

Some of the most-visited cities are experiencing much higher than average growth. With the 2020 Olympics being held in Japan next year, Tokyo (currently 9th) is forecast to see growth in excess of 10%.

Here are the top five destination cities as featured in the 10th annual Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index:

5. Singapore

In 2018, 14.76 million overnight visitors went to Singapore – that’s the measure Mastercard uses to differentiate between visitors and those on a short stopover.

Half of the top cities on the list are in the Asia-Pacific region, which has registered the largest increase in international travellers since 2009, growing 9.4%.

Singapore is riding a wave of growing tourist visits
Image: Pixabay

Once there, visitors to Singapore were relaxed about spending their money, pushing the city to number four in the list of where tourists spent the most.


How is the World Economic Forum supporting the development of cities and communities globally?

4. Dubai

Less than 60 years ago, Dubai was a fishing village. Today, the emirate has a population of more than 3 million. And last year, their numbers were boosted by 15.93 million visitors.

Famed as a centre for shopping and as a destination for conferences and exhibitions, when it comes to how much money visitors spend in their chosen destination, Dubai dominates. In 2018, visitors spent a whopping $30.82 billion.

Who gets the most tourist spend?
Image: Mastercard

3. London

Big Ben. Parliament. Buckingham Palace. London is full of famous landmarks. So it’s small wonder 19.09 million people went there last year.

However, London was the only city in the top 10 to experience a fall in visitor numbers – a drop of 4% that saw it slip from last year’s second-placed spot.

The UK’s top 10 visited attractions are all in London, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, which lists the Tate Modern art gallery (5.86 million), the British Museum (5.82 million), and the National Gallery (5.73 million) as the city’s big three draws.

2. Paris

London’s loss was Paris’ gain, as it moved up the rankings from three to two, with only marginally more visitors than the UK’s capital. It might not have a monarchy, but there is plenty of pomp and splendour to see in Paris - not to mention the Louvre, the world’s most visited museum.

Of the 10.2 million people who descend through its glass pyramid entrance each year, about 80% are believed to come just to see the Mona Lisa.

 Paris – reflecting on an increase in visitor numbers
Image: Pedro Szekely

Disneyland Paris, which opened in 1992, casts a long shadow over the rest of the city’s tourist attractions. In the 25 years between opening in 1992 and 2017, it had 320 million visits, making it Europe’s top tourist destination.

It has contributed $75 billion (€68 billion) to the French economy, and represents 6.2% of France’s tourism revenue.

Have you read?

1. Bangkok

Hanging on to the top spot for the fourth year running, Thailand’s capital welcomed more than 22 million visitors last year.

Image: Mastercard

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council’s 2018 data, Thailand has the largest tourism economy in Southeast Asia. The $70.1 billion that tourists spent there last year accounted for 20.8% of Thailand's export earnings, the WTTC said.

But being heavily dependant on one sector can put an economy at the mercy of global trends. A strengthening Thai currency and a slowdown in the global economy could impact Thailand’s tourism income, Mastercard said.

In the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019, the number of international tourist arrivals worldwide reached 1.4 billion, with emerging economies contributing larger proportions of travellers to this global trend.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How Japan is attracting digital nomads to shape local economies and innovation

Naoko Tochibayashi and Naoko Kutty

March 28, 2024


About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum