MasterCard has revealed its Global Destination Cities Index, which ranks every city on the planet according to traveller volume. Over the last four years, London and Bangkok have exchanged the number-one spot three times, and in 2016, it’s Bangkok that comes out top again. Ben Brown reports
The Thai capital leads the top 20 most visited cities, once again filled with East Asian giants, proving that travel and tourism in the region is gaining yet more speed.
The Global Destination Cities Index, now in its seventh year, combines real and predicted data to create its 2016 ranking. A “visitor” counts as someone who stays overnight, and it does not include those landing in a city to make a connecting flight or transit to another destination.
Here are the top 20 most visited cities in the world…
Visitors: 5.81 millionWith stunning architecture, some of the best breweries in Europe, and a culture stretching back over 1,000 years, Prague remains an essential European adventure.
Visitors: 6.12 millionThe world’s most populous city (according to “city proper” rankings) and China’s financial centre, Shanghai attracts two million more visitors than the country’s capital, Beijing.
Visitors: 6.69 millionAustria’s beautiful capital attracts millions of visitors with its quaint courtyards, intriguing history and, of course, chocolate cake.
Visitors: 7.02 millionJapan’s third-largest city is also the fastest growing destination city on the planet. The driving factor here is predominantly Chinese tourism.
Visitors: 7.12 millionItaly’s cultural and historical heart remains one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.
Visitors: 7.35 millionThe Taiwanese capital is a cosmopolitan delight, marked by towering skyscrapers and traditional night markets. Fusing Chinese, Japanese and Western influences, the city attracts a huge volume of tourists.
Visitors: 7.65Italy’s traditional business centre doubles as a hot-bed of fashion, design, and architecture. Just a short skip away from the beautiful lake region, Milan is Italy’s most-visited city.
Visitors: 8 millionKnown for its quaint canals and relaxed lifestyle, Amsterdam is also one of Europe’s essential financial hubs. Recognised as a gateway to Europe, Schiphol airport is one of the busiest on the planet. It is fed predominantly by London, New York, Copenhagen, Manchester and Birmingham.
Visitors: 8.2 millionBarcelona beats out Spanish capital Madrid thanks to its strange and beautiful Gaudi architecture, museums and long, sandy beach. Travel to Barcelona is mostly fed by London, Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt and Brussels.
11. Hong Kong
Visitors: 8.37 millionOne of the world’s primary financial centres, Hong Kong remains a vital destination in East Asia, despite slipping back one place in the rankings from last year.
Visitors: 10.2 millionIn South Korea’s capital city, modern skyscrapers sit side-by-side with Buddhist temples, making it a commanding destination for business and tourism alike. The city is fed predominantly by Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei and Osaka.
Visitors: 11.7 millionThe most popular Japanese city on the list, Tokyo is East Asia’s fourth most-visited destination thanks to a combination of imperial history and culture, and its financial acumen. Tokyo’s biggest feeder cities are Shanghai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul.
Visitors: 11.95 millionAn important bridge between Europe and the Middle East, Istanbul’s appeal doesn’t appear to have been affected by the year’s political disturbances. In fact, the destination is Europe’s third-fastest growing tourist city. Istanbul is predominantly served by London, Dusseldorf, Paris, Tehran and Jeddah.
7. Kuala Lumpur
Visitors: 12.02 millionA melting pot of Asian influences, Kuala Lumpur is home to the famous Petronas Towers and a feast of wonderful street food. The financial district is also closing the gap on neighbouring Singapore and looks set to grow. Kuala Lumpur’s main feeder cities are Taipei, Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Bangkok.
Visitors: 12.11 millionSingapore is first-and-foremost a business and financial hub. However, its colonial history, appealing cuisine and iconic “Supertrees” sky garden (above) attract tourists aplenty. The city is fed mainly by Jakarta, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Manila.
5. New York
Visitors: 12.75The Big Apple is the only American city in the top 20, beating Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco. New York remains an enviable tourist city, plus it’s home to the world’s largest stock exchange, attracting millions of business travellers. London, Paris, Beijing, Sao Paulo and Toronto are the city’s largest feeders.
Visitors: 15.27 millionDubai is a playground of architectural experimentation and excess. Among the mega sky-scrapers are millions of expats, business travelers and tourists. Dubai is the only Middle-Eastern city in the top 20, with three times as many visitors as its closest neighbour, Riyadh. Dubai’s largest feeders are Doha, London, Kuwait, Jeddah and Riyadh.
Visitors: 18.03 millionThe most romantic city on the planet has previously hit the top spot, but comes in at third place in 2016. The iconic Eiffel Tower and beautiful streets are helping to attract more Chinese tourists, but high-profile terror attacks may have reduced visitor numbers this year. London, New York, Amsterdam, Munich and Milan are the city’s biggest feeders.
Visitors: 19.88 millionLondon falls from first to second place in 2016, arguably beset by fears about the city’s future as a financial centre after its decision to withdraw from the EU. Nevertheless, it draws millions of tourists, primarily from New York, Dublin, Amsterdam, Geneva and Frankfurt.
Visitors: 21.47 millionThailand’s rich and vibrant capital takes the number one spot from London this year, attracting adventurers, tourists, and business people alike. The city’s wonderful cuisine, awe-inspiring temples, and bizarre mix of new and old deservedly places it at the top. Bangkok’s biggest feeders are Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai.