Did you know that Pattaya is more popular than Amsterdam? Or that Antalya gets twice as many visitors as Cancun?
There are some interesting findings when you step away from the “hot list” travel media and look at where people are traveling around the world for real.
What are the most popular destination cities in the world? According to Euromonitor, the #1 destination for arrivals is Hong Kong. I predict it will get passed by Bangkok this year after all the anti-Chinese-government protests constantly splashed across our TV screens. That will be interesting because it’s been growing almost non-stop since I first visited in 1994. But I never expected it to pass Paris, London, and New York.
What Are the Most Popular Travel Destinations?
There are a few surprises in the top-20 most popular destinations for travelers, mixed in with perennial favorites that are on bucket lists of people around the world.
1. Hong Kong
8. New York City
9. Kuala Lumpur
A few of those stand out as kind of odd to me, especially Antalya (Turkey) at #12 since nearly all of those are going to be tourists, not business travelers. Istanbul saw one of the greatest increases too, up 10% on top of 25% the year before. I’ve written before about what a great place Istanbul is to visit, but I’m surprised it’s still growing despite the political clampdowns and dictator behavior. The economy has been in trouble though, so the place has gotten much cheaper.
That Euromonitor list is worldwide of course, which is skewed greatly these days by where the rising tide of Chinese tourists is headed. After all, their country has a population that’s several times that of the USA or even all of Europe. Then you’ve got a lot of people from the second most populous nation, India, also on the move.
Only a quarter of the top-20 are in any of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, though a lot more pop up when you get further down the list. You see entries in the top-100 from Indonesia, Egypt, India, Vietnam, Morocco, and Hungary, for starters. Latin America doesn’t make much of a showing, with only four cities on there, but Peru’s gateway city of Lima made the list.
Where Are Americans Flying?
The list of where people are traveling looks a lot different if we only look at where Americans are headed next. As someone who has driven six hours and still been in the same state, I know that U.S. travelers have a lot of land at their disposal without getting on a plane. Then when they do put up with the luggage hassles and cramped seats of most airlines, they still tend to stay in the Americas and Caribbean since it’s only a few hours in transit.
According to Kayak, here were the top flight searches for January:
2. Fort Lauderdale
3. Los Angeles
5. Las Vegas
8. New Orleans
9. San Francisco
I’m a little surprised that London and Rome made the cut since it’s winter, but I’m guessing a lot of people are planning far ahead for next spring or summer vacation. Otherwise, despite what you see on those hot places to travel lists that change so drastically from year to year, the most popular places generally stay popular.
Which Destinations Are Rising or Dropping in Popularity?
It’s interesting to look at who is on the rise and who is not. I mentioned the jump in Turkish destinations before, but some of the others that saw huge increases last year were even more surprising. Here’s where the most dramatic jumps were when you get beyond the top 20 most popular destinations:
Agra, India – up 24.4%
Denpasar (Bali), Indonesia – up 19.4%
Chennai, India – up 23.5%
Jaipur, India – up 18.5%
Cairo, Egypt – up 18.3%
Ha Long, Vietnam – up 18%
Melbourne, Australia – up 14.2%
Cebu, Philippines – up 26.2%
Hurghada, Egypt – up 41.3%
Da Nang, Vietnam – up 15%
Batam, Indonesia – up 14.4%
Bangalore/Bengalura, India – up 19.5%
Again, much of this growth in spots where people are traveling more is clearly tied to the growth of travelers from China and India. When the middle class rises a few percentage points, that’s millions more people who can now afford to travel. It’s cheaper and easier to go somewhere close to home that fly all the way to Europe or the Americas.
This made me wonder who was losing out in the race to attract more tourists though—or who already has more than they can handle so they’re happy to plateau. International tourism is on the rise overall, so it’s rare these days for a destination so see the floor drop out unless there’s some kind of disaster. If you’re just even over the past two years you drop in the rankings—which is what happened with most Saudi destinations actually—so an actual decline is kind of rare. Here’s who saw the biggest drops in the top 100 arrival destinations:
Hong Kong -8.7% (but still hung onto the #1 spot)
Heraklion (Crete), Greece -10%
Cheju, South Korea -3%
Las Vegas rose a paltry 0.7%, but this is after a drop of 1.4% the year before. They’re not popping any champagne. Cancun was up 1.8%, but after being flat the year before. Watch this get worse since Mexico dissolved their tourism promotion board.
Some others that were basically flat over the past two years were London, Milan, Kyoto, Shenzhen, Dubai, Guangzhou, Beijing, and Krakow. Venice only grew 1.9% but the local residents probably wish they were declining. Hopefully the mandated recent cruise ship decreases will help, as that did in Dubrovnik.
As the report said, “While leading cities have benefited from their own popularity, many destinations are now faced with issues of overcrowding, pollution and transport management.”
So my advice remains the same: don’t follow the crowd if you want to find flight bargains, lodging bargains, and thinner crowds. Sure, it’s fun to look at where people are traveling, but there are plenty of terrific places to visit beyond the ones where all the tour buses are lined up waiting.