Industries in Depth

Chart of the day: These countries normally have the highest international tourist numbers

A tourist wearing a protective mask is seen near The Louvre as as the museum among top tourism landmarks closed their doors on Friday after France's government banned gatherings of more than 100 people to curb the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 in Paris, France March 14,2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes - RC2QJF9AHKJA

Some countries are re-opening their borders to international tourists, but it's predicted tourist numbers could fall by up to 80% in 2020. Image: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

David Elliott
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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COVID-19

  • Some countries are considering easing coronavirus lockdowns to reopen their borders.
  • International tourist numbers could fall by up to 80% in 2020, the World Tourism Organization says.
  • Pre-crisis, France was the world’s most visited country.

With lockdowns beginning to ease, many countries are starting to think about how to restart an engine vital to their economies: tourism.

Even so, international tourist numbers could fall by up to 80% in 2020, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

But, in a normal year, where are the most visited destinations?

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Global tourists.
France saw the most tourists in 2018. Image: World Tourism Organization via the World Bank

France is the world’s number one destination for international tourists, the most recent figures from the UNWTO show. Almost 90 million people visited the country in 2018.

Spain isn’t far behind, with over 82 million visitors. The United States, China and Italy complete the top five.

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These countries are also among the hardest-hit by COVID-19, with the US, Italy, France and Spain (along with the United Kingdom and Brazil) to date recording the world’s highest number of confirmed coronavirus deaths.

Lockdowns caused havoc in these economies – as they have in many others around the globe – and countries reliant on travel and tourism have seen “particularly large” disruptions, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Of the top five most visited nations, Spain in particular will be feeling the heat in this respect – international tourists spend about $81 billion in the country annually. That’s over 16% of its total exports, while the same figure is under 10% for France and Italy.

Those numbers pale in comparison to Saint Lucia, though, where international tourism receipts make up more than 81% of total exports.

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