Favourite travel destinations have remained largely static over the past decade. France, United States, Spain, China and Italy were the five most visited destinations in 2013 (in that order). Only two changes took place in the 2013 Top 10 ranking by arrivals. Spain (with 61 million arrivals) regained the third position it had lost in 2010 to China (56 million).
And Thailand entered the top 10 arrivals for the first time, ranking at number 10, climbing an amazing five positions since 2012 (UNWTO). The number of international arrivals to Thailand has increased by over 65% since 2010. Though political instability in the capital of Bangkok may have an impact on its ability to attract visitors in 2014.
In regional terms, South East Asia was the fastest growing from 2012-2013 (up 10.5%), led by increases in Thailand, Cambodia (up 68%) and Vietnam (up 50%). Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka have surged by 95% since 2010, and in the Maldives by 42%, as both destinations further develop their hospitality offerings and infrastructure.
Desire for European destinations still reigned supreme – six of the ten most visited countries in 2013 were European (UNWTO considers Turkey part of the European region). Despite local economic headwinds, international arrivals to Spain increased by 5.7% and in Italy by 2.9%, as visitors contributed $60.4 billion and $43.9 billion to each local economy respectively.
Visitors to the United Kingdom increased by 6.4%, as spending in the U.K. jumped by 12.1% in just one year, reaching $40.6 billion for 2013. Though a recent study estimates that the U.K. is losing over $2 billion worth of revenue every year, solely from Chinese tourists. The same research estimates that Chinese visitors spend 64% more than the average overseas visitor (FT).
Retailers continue to warn that the UK’s insistence on remaining outside the border-free Schengen area covering means that Britain is missing the economic boost given to capitals such as Paris and Milan (FT). The UK has begun to introduce measures designed to better facilitate Chinese tourism, but there remains some way to go before the destination reaches the visitor numbers achieved by its EU neighbours.