Energy Transition

These are the top 10 countries for travel and tourism

A plane flying across Miami Beach, United States.

The US retains its prime position in the World Economic Forum's latest Travel & Tourism Development Index. Image: Unsplash/EveLazco

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Pent-up demand after the pandemic is expected to drive passenger numbers back up to pre-pandemic levels in 2024.
  • The recovery of the travel and tourism sector since the pandemic has been uneven, however, and some nations are better placed than others to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the future.
  • The top three best-placed countries for travel and tourism are the US, Spain and Japan, according to the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index.

If you were desperate to get away after the restrictions and enforced staying at home of the pandemic years, you were far from alone.

Global international tourist arrivals are expected to meet pre-pandemic levels in 2024 driven by this pent-up demand. But, the recovery of the travel and tourism sector since the pandemic has not been without challenges. Add to that macroeconomic, geopolitical and environmental factors, which have added pressures on the industry.

These pressures will amplify and evolve over the coming years and, along with the growth of digital technologies and AI, may well force the travel industry to adapt.

Some economies are better placed than others to make these changes, respond to future risks and ensure that travel and tourism is a driver of economic growth and prosperity.

With this in mind, the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index (TTDI) aims to serve as a benchmark for stakeholders to gauge progress, inform decisions and policies, and encourage sustainable and resilient growth.

A mixed recovery in challenging conditions

Europe dominates the top 10 economies for T&T, as ranked by the 2023 index, although the top spot is clinched by the US.

List showing the countries on the overall rankings in the Travel and Tourism Index.
The US has retained its top spot as the best economy for travel and tourism. Image: World Economic Forum

But the index also shows that while 71 of the 119 economies it ranks improved their scores between 2019 and 2023, the average improvement is just 0.7% above pre-pandemic levels.

On the one hand, the rebound in travel and tourism has coincided with rising global air route capacity and connectivity, improved international openness, and increased investment in natural and cultural resources driving tourism. On the other hand, non-leisure demand is still lagging, there are ongoing labour shortages, and air route capacity and connectivity, capital investment and productivity have struggled to keep pace with demand.

This has created a supply and demand imbalance which, along with inflationary pressures, has led to reduced price competitiveness and service disruptions.

Charts showcasing the scores for Travel and Tourism Index.
Many European countries sit above the global mean on the TTDI scale. Image: World Economic Forum

Europe and Asia-Pacific have the most favourable conditions

Of the top 30 TTDI scorers in 2023, 26 are high-income countries. Nineteen of them are based in Europe, and seven in Asia Pacific.

These countries benefit from favourable business environments and labour markets, open travel policies, advanced technology adoption, excellent transport and tourism infrastructure, and rich natural, cultural and non-leisure attractions.

As a result, this group of 30 accounted for more than three-quarters of T&T industry GDP in 2022, and 70% of GDP growth between 2020 and 2022.

Map showcasing the scores for Travel and Tourism Index.
Sub-Saharan Africa has seen the most movement in its score since 2019. Image: World Economic Forum

But although this group is leading the way, many of the above-average improvements in scores come from low- to upper-middle-income countries, including sub-Saharan and North Africa, Eurasia, South America, South Asia, and the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

While many have shown improvements, these less affluent countries still make up the vast majority of below-average scorers in the index. More investment is needed to help increase their share of the market and improve their readiness for future risks and opportunities.

Progress needed on resilience and equality

The ability of the travel and tourism sector to grow is limited by challenges like tight labour markets, growing fiscal constraints and concerns around health and security conditions. Labour market resilience will be an increasingly important factor for the sector, but issues like equality of job opportunities, workers’ rights and social protection are holding many economies – particularly low- and middle-income ones – back in this area.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing to reduce aviation's carbon footprint?

Another major hurdle for the sector is balancing growth with sustainability. Although there has been broad progress in areas like energy sustainability, some progress – like the fall in emissions seen during the pandemic – is likely to only be temporary.

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