Figures released last year by the United Nations World Tourism Organization showed France remains the world’s most visited country, with more than 83 million international tourist arrivals in 2012. When it comes to attracting visitors France has no shortage of draws – Alpine ski resorts, Mediterranean beaches, food, wine and culture clearly hold great appeal.

But what happens if you take visitor numbers and compare them to a country’s population, to give the number of tourists per head of population? You get a very different set of results.

Vatican City

When it comes to tourists as a percentage of population, one country stands head and shoulders above the rest. With a population of a little more than 800, Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent state. It is also the epicentre of a religion with an estimated 1.2 billion followers worldwide, and is a site of great religious, historical, cultural and political significance. The Vatican Museums alone received nearly five-and-a-half million visitors last year, so it comes as no surprise to find it punches way above its weight in the tourists per head stakes.


In (a distant) second place is Andorra, which received more than 2.2 million tourists in 2012, despite having a population of fewer than 80,000. Low sales taxes and import duties on consumer goods make it an appealing shopping destination, while its growing reputation for affordable ski holidays also goes some way to explaining its relative popularity.


You can also see just to what extent the Caribbean relies on tourism, with many nations in that region welcoming more visitors than there are residents each year.

Bangladesh, India, Pakistan

At the other end of the scale you find Bangladesh (0.003 tourists per head), with India and Pakistan (both 0.005) not far behind. India’s presence here is perhaps the most surprising. It may have received more than six and a half million tourists in 2012 but its population of more than 1.2 billion dwarfs its visitor numbers.


London may be rivalling Paris as a tourist destination – at least according to our mayor – but on a country-wide scale the gap between Britain and France is yawning. The UK received 0.46 tourists per head in 2012, compared to 1.26 for our Gallic neighbours.


Where possible, population data was taken from and tourism data from the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, which gives figures for the number of international tourist arrivals by country each year. The number of international tourist arrivals for each country was then divided by the corresponding population to give the tourists per head figure.

For some countries, the UNWTO has not yet provided data for 2012. In some of these cases estimates for 2013 international tourist arrivals by the World Travel and Tourism Council have been used.

There were some countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, for which no recent tourism data could be found and these have been omitted.

Only sovereign states have been included, so British Overseas Territories, unincorporated territories of the USA and the two Chinese Special Administrative Regions, Hong Kong and Macao, for example, have also been omitted.


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Tags: tourism, unwto
Photo Credit: People wave flags as Pope Francis arrives to lead his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican October 23, 2013. Max Rossi / Reuters