France, Egypt, Ice­land, Ja­pan, Cam­bo­dia... Oliver Smith re­veals the fastest-grow­ing des­ti­na­tions

Friday - - CONTENTS -

For­get Venice and Barcelona – these are the world’s new hotspots.

To any­one who has bat­tled the crowds in Venice, Barcelona or Dubrovnik in re­cent years, the fol­low­ing fact will come as no sur­prise: tourists have never been more nu­mer­ous. A record 1.323 bil­lion over­seas trips were made by trav­ellers last year, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics re­leased last week by the United Na­tions World Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion (UNWTO). That rep­re­sents an in­crease of nearly 7 per cent on 2016 – the big­gest year-on-year rise since 2010.

While there are plenty of emerg­ing des­ti­na­tions in Africa, Asia and the Amer­i­cas, the world’s sec­ond small­est con­ti­nent in terms of land area – Eu­rope – wel­comed 51 per cent of all over­seas trav­ellers last year. Its dom­i­nance shows lit­tle sign of slow­ing. Ar­rivals rose by 8.3 per cent across the con­ti­nent in 2017, out­strip­ping growth in the Amer­i­cas (+4 per cent), the Mid­dle East (+4.6 per cent), and Asia and the Pa­cific (+5.6 per cent), and only a frac­tion be­hind Africa (+8.6 per cent).

Eu­rope also pro­vides six of the world’s 10 most-vis­ited coun­tries, with France top­ping the table, Spain in sec­ond, Italy fifth, the UK sev­enth, Turkey eighth and Ger­many ninth. A fur­ther five Euro­pean coun­tries – Aus­tria, Greece, Rus­sia, Poland and Nether­lands – make the top 20.

How­ever, the US was one of the big­gest losers when it came to tourism last year. South Korea also saw a fall in ar­rivals of 22.7 per cent, a slump at­trib­uted to height­ened ten­sions with its neigh­bour to the north.

The rise of China

In the first year of the new mil­len­nium, a mod­est 10.5 mil­lion over­seas trips were made by Chi­nese res­i­dents. Fast for­ward to 2017 and the fig­ure was 145 mil­lion – an as­tound­ing in­crease of 1,380 per cent. In less than two decades China has grown from travel min­now to the world’s most pow­er­ful out­bound mar­ket, leapfrog­ging the US – and leav­ing it in its wake. Ac­cord­ing to the UNWTO, Chi­nese tourists over­seas spent $257.7 bil­lion last year, up from around $10 bil­lion in the year 2000. Amer­ica’s glo­be­trot­ters parted with a rel­a­tively pal­try $135 bil­lion. Now con­sider this: just 7 per cent of Chi­nese cit­i­zens – or 99 mil­lion peo­ple – pos­sess a pass­port, com­pared to around 40 per cent of Amer­i­cans, and 76 per cent of Bri­tons.

Clearly the po­ten­tial for fur­ther growth – China’s pop­u­la­tion is 1.415 bil­lion – is stag­ger­ing. The China Out­bound Tourism Re­search In­sti­tute pre­dicts that over­seas trips by the coun­try’s res­i­dents will in­crease from last year’s fig­ure of 145 mil­lion to more than 400 mil­lion by 2030.

‘That means that out of the 600 mil­lion ad­di­tional trips in in­ter­na­tional tourism fore­casted by UNWTO – bring­ing the to­tal from 1.2 bil­lion in 2017 to 1.8 bil­lion by 2030 – al­most half will orig­i­nate in China,’ it says. The coun­try will ac­count for a quar­ter of in­ter­na­tional tourism.

The fastest-grow­ing des­ti­na­tions in 2017

Ex­clud­ing places that re­ceived fewer than 500,000 vis­i­tors, Egypt was the fastest-grow­ing travel des­ti­na­tion last year. This should come as no sur­prise. Ar­rivals to the Mid­dle East­ern coun­try fell sharply in 2016, from 9.1 mil­lion to 5.3 mil­lion, amid a back­drop of civil un­rest and ter­ror at­tacks. Since then Egypt has ex­pe­ri­enced a pe­riod of rel­a­tive calm, although flights to Sharm Al Shaikh re­main grounded. Last year’s fig­ure was 8.1 mil­lion. Turkey and Tu­nisia have also re­sponded strongly after se­cu­rity chal­lenges in re­cent years.

Nepal is an­other na­tion on the re­cov­ery trail. The dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake of 2015 killed nearly 9,000 peo­ple – and, un­der­stand­ably, hit tourism hard. With al­most one mil­lion ar­rivals last year, how­ever, the in­dus­try is back on track.

Ice­land’s rise con­tin­ued, with more than 2.2 mil­lion over­seas ar­rivals. The boom has sparked con­cerns that the is­land could be­come “Dis­ney­land” un­less growth is checked.

How things have changed

An­nual ar­rivals dou­bled in six coun­tries in the pe­riod from 2010-2017, with Ja­pan lead­ing the way. It wel­comed 8.6 mil­lion trav­ellers seven years ago. Last year the fig­ure was 28.7 mil­lion, a re­mark­able rise of 233.7 per cent.

Ja­pan’s rise demon­strates the value of cut­ting red tape. In 2013 the coun­try re­laxed visa re­stric­tions for vis­i­tors from Thai­land, Malaysia, In­done­sia, Philip­pines and Viet­nam. Since 2015 it has eased re­stric­tions for Chi­nese cit­i­zens. In 2017 it be­came eas­ier for Azer­bai­jani trav­ellers to visit and this year those from In­dia and Ukraine ben­e­fited. A to­tal of 66 na­tion­al­i­ties can now visit Ja­pan as a tourist with­out a visa.

How­ever, rapid growth means strained in­fras­truc­ture and over­crowd­ing. Ear­lier this year The Ja­pan Times re­ported on what the coun­try’s me­dia calls kanko ko­gai, or “tourism pol­lu­tion”. Ky­oto is the key bat­tle­ground, it says, with res­i­dents claim­ing the city is so over­run they can’t use buses or get a reser­va­tion in their favourite restau­rants. The city’s miyabi, a re­fined at­mos­phere unique to Ky­oto, has been de­stroyed, they say.

A to­tal of 66 na­tion­al­i­ties can now visit Ja­pan as a tourist with­out a visa. This year those from In­dia and Ukraine were added to the list

Africa saw the most growth in ar­rivals in 2017. RIGHT: Ja­pan’s rise shows the value of cut­ting red tape

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