Many of the world’s most visited cities continued to be epicenters of global travel in 2015 but some had fewer visitors than the previous year, owed to weaker economies and political unrest in cities such as Paris and Hong Kong.

Hong Kong remained the world’s most visited city by international travelers in 2015 but registered -3.9 percent growth in arrivals year-over-year (26.6 million), according to data from Euromonitor International. Macau, another Chinese special administrative region, had 1.8 percent fewer international visitors in 2015 than 2014 (14.3 million).

Yet cities in mainland China such as Shenzhen had -3.4 percent growth while Guangzhou had 1.6 percent growth, Shanghai had 2.2 percent growth and Beijing’s foreign arrivals decreased by 1.8 percent.

Political developments in Hong Kong and Macau, for example, had a strong impact on travel behaviors in 2015, said Wouter Geerts, travel analyst at Euromonitor International.

“The Chinese authorities clamped down on some of the illegal activities associated with the gambling industry in Macau, which impacted the travel of rich Chinese tourists to the area,” said Geerts. “And protests from Hong Kong locals, demanding more autonomy from the Chinese government and against Chinese shoppers emptying the shelves of local shops to benefit from [value added tax] discounts, resulted in a slump in Chinese tourist visits to Hong Kong in 2015.”

Euromonitor compiled a list of the top 100 most-visited cities by international travelers as of 2015 (the most recent year that comprehensive data for all cities is available) and also found three cities in Thailand were among the top 20 most visited by international travelers. The cities on this list aren’t necessarily the most-visited overall as domestic travelers aren’t included in the arrivals.

Turmoil Helped and Hurt Some Cities in 2015

Paris, which was rocked by terrorist attacks during the past two years, saw fewer international arrivals last year but its foreign visitation was already on the decline before the attacks in 2015.

“Although Paris has a strong offering of luxury shopping, which is attracting many Asian travelers, it still relies significantly on European travelers,” said Geerts. “In 2013 and 2014 the Eurozone crisis dampened performance across Euro countries, which had a stronger impact on Paris than London.”

Euromonitor uses different data sources for different cities, such as airport arrivals or statistics from national tourism offices. For Paris, hotel and alternative accommodations data were gleaned. “We have spoken to the Paris tourism office and upon their advice added additional people who are staying with friends and family, or in unofficial accommodation like short-term rentals,” said Geerts. “The official figure of foreigners staying in official accommodation (hotels) in Paris for 2015 was 8.9 million, while the total including other accommodation types is 15 million.”

Euromonitor’s data highlights Paris as Airbnb’s largest market with 78,000 listings as of December 31, 2016, for example, according to Airbnb data. If the data hold true, that means more than 40 percent of international visitors (6.1 million) in Paris stayed in alternative accommodations in 2015.

London, however, saw nearly seven percent growth in its international visitors in 2015 but Brexit could dampen that level of growth in the future, said Geerts. “London was also still riding the positive wave of the London Olympics in 2013 and 2014,” he said. “London is expected to perform very strongly in 2016 because of the fall of the pound, but 2017 will bring a lot of uncertainty. If the triggering of Article 50 will mean a further drop in the pound, it can be expected that 2017 will be another bumper year for international arrivals.”

Thailand saw healthy growth across the country for international arrivals in 2015 and benefited from the decline in popularity from Hong Kong and Macau, Geerts said. “Thailand was further boosted by a more stable political situation, which had suppressed growth in 2014,” he said. “It is likely Bangkok would have registered even stronger growth, but for the Erewan Shrine bombing in August 2015, which saw several countries, including Singapore and the Philippines, issue travel advice urging citizens to take all necessary precautions for personal safety when they are in Thailand.”

Tokyo, and Japan in general, also benefited from an influx of Chinese travelers choosing other destinations over those closer to home and saw 35.4 percent year-over-year growth in 2015.

There will certainly be many changes to this ranking once 2016 data is finalized next year as Istanbul’s international arrivals, for instance, grew nearly five percent in 2015 but then suffered multiple terrorist attacks and a military coup last year.

Overall growth for all 100 cities was 5.5 percent year-over-year. Below is a chart of the top 20 most-visited cities by international travelers in 2015.

Top 20 Most-Visited Cities by International Travelers in 2015

Rank City Country 2014 Arrivals (millions) 2015 Arrivals (millions) Year-Over-Year Growth 2014-2015
1 Hong Kong China 27,770.50 26,686.00 -3.90%
2 Bangkok Thailand 17,031.70 18,734.90 10.00%
3 London United Kingdom 17,404.00 18,580.00 6.80%
4 Singapore Singapore 16,795.60 16,869.40 0.40%
5 Paris France 15,058.10 15,023.00 -0.20%
6 Macau Macau 14,566.00 14,308.50 -1.80%
7 Dubai United Arab Emirates 13,200.00 14,260.00 8.00%
8 Istanbul Turkey 11,843.00 12,414.60 4.80%
9 New York City United States 12,230.00 12,300.00 0.60%
10 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia 11,629.60 12,153.00 4.50%
11 Shenzhen China 11,825.90 11,423.80 -3.40%
12 Antalya Turkey 11,506.40 10,868.70 -5.50%
13 Rome Italy 8,807.00 9,558.70 8.50%
14 Taipei Taiwan 8,615.00 9,045.80 5%
15 Seoul South Korea 9,389.60 8,826.20 -6%
16 Phuket Thailand 8,115.30 8,821.40 8.70%
17 Tokyo Japan 6,243.20 8,456.40 35.40%
18 Guangzhou China 7,833.00 7,958.30 1.60%
19 Miami United States 7,260.00 7,604.90 4.80%
20 Pattaya Thailand 6,427.30 7,487.90 16.50%

 

Source: Euromonitor and national statistics

Photo Credit: Hong Kong was once again the most-visited city in the world for international travelers in 2015. Pictured is the Hong Kong skyline. Kevin Lau / Flickr