June 03, 2015
With data going back to 2009, the Global Destination Cities Index charts how 132 of the most important cities in the world are connected through air travel - how many international visitors arrive at each of these 132 cities from the other cities; and how much these visitors spend during their visit.1
The Index is therefore a map of a key human dimension of global connectivity. And over the five years since its launch in 2011, this map shows consistently great dynamism and growth in air travel between these 132 cities, driven by improving infrastructure, rising discretionary spending power (especially in the expanding middle class in emerging markets), and the seemingly unquenchable thirst of an ever-increasing number of people from all walks of life to visit the world.
An interesting aspect of the dynamism of air travel can be seen in the top ten fastest growing destination cities over this seven-year period. As shown in Chart 1, the top ten include cities from most regions of the world except Western Europe and North America, as well as cities in both developed and developing countries. All of these fastest-growing cities show double-digit cumulative annual growth rates (CAGR).
Colombo in Sri Lanka is the fastest growing destination city among the 132 cities covered by the Index at 21.1 percent CAGR between 2009 and 2015. Tourism there is clearly recovering strongly after the ending of its longrunning civil war. Three cities in Greater China and two in Japan are also in the top ten, so are two in the Middle East. Many of these are coming off a very low base such as Colombo and Chengdu, but some of them, such as Tokyo, are already a leading destination city in terms of number of international visitors and yet are still showing impressive growth.
CHART 1 Fastest Growing Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors (2009-2015 CAGR)
For comparison of destination cities with similar international visitor numbers, Chart 2 shows the five fastest-growing over the 2009-2015 period among the top 20 destination cities in the world. Avery different picture emerges in this comparison. Four out of five are in Asia led by Taipei, with the fifth, Istanbul, in Central Europe. These are destination cities that have big enough numbers of international visitors to put them in the top 20 of the world, and yet are still growing at double digits. And for the four Asian cities, their strong growth in visitors has come mostly from the massive increase in outbound travel from China.
CHART 2 Fastest Growing Destination Cities within the Top 20(2009-2015 CAGR)
A prerequisite for any destination city that aspires to attract more international visitors is to increase the capacity of its airport(s) and frequency of flight connections between the airport and the rest of the world. A "connectivity score" is constructed to assess the destination cities in this regard.2
The top five destination cities and changes in their connectivity scores since 2009 are shown in Chart 3.
London led the world in 2009, and by 2015 its connectivity score increased by 4.2 points. Paris is second, but its connectivity score has dropped by 13 points since 2009. Next is Dubai, increasing its score by an impressive 20.4 points, and surpassing Frankfurt between 2009 and 2015. Frankfurt slipped to fourth, with its score basically unchanged. Rounding out the top five, Istanbul increased its score by 26.0 points, exceeding the growth rate of Dubai. Not surprisingly, Dubai and Istanbul are dynamic destination cities moving rapidly up the ranks.
While these changing scores of air connectivity are indicative of the potential of the destination cities, they are not directly correlated with, at least not immediately, their international visitor arrivals. The international arrivals figures also include transit passengers, city residents returning from overseas trips, and passengers arriving from other domestic airports, which are excluded in the estimates of international overnight visitors.
CHART 3 Top 6 Global Leading Hubs by International Connectivity Score (London 2009 = 100)
A different way to gauge the performance of a destination city is to take into account the size of the city's resident population, and look at the number of international overnight visitors that it attracts per city resident. From this perspective, Dubai is the unmistakable world champion as shown in Chart 4. It went from 4.9 visitors per resident in 2009 to 5.7 in 2015, basically in a league of its own.
In contrast, some of the leading and most successful destination cities in the world have much lower visitor to resident ratios because of their large resident population, such as London and NEW York. Dubai is such an outlier because of both the large number of international visitors and the very small size of its resident population.
CHART 4 Top 20 Global Destinations by Overnight Visitor Arrivals per city resident 2009 versus 2015
Similarly, Dubai Leads the world in terms of international visitor spending per city resident, estimated at US$4,668 in 2015 as shown in Chart 5. It is almost double the second-ranked Barcelona at US$2,793. Singapore, London and Kuala Lumpur are in third, fourth and fifth ranks with international visitor spending per city resident estimated at US$2,639, US$2,480, and US$1,933 respectively.
CHART 5 Top 20 Global Destinations by Overnight Visitor Arrival Expenditure per City Resident in 2015
Last but not least, a note-worthy feature of the human connectivity dimension captured by the Index is that international visitor numbers and their cross-border spending have been consistently growing faster than world real GDP since 2009, as illustrated in Chart 6.
CHART 6 World GDP Growth Versus the Growth of International Visitor Arrivals and Spend by the 132 Destinations
This is extraordinary given the generally weak and uneven global economic recovery in the aftermath of the 2009 global financial crisis, as well as the fact that world trade grew slower than world GDP since 2009. International air travel is clearly a powerful trend that will persist in the years to come. In 2015, it is expected that 382.9 million trips will be made by international visitors by air between the 132 cities covered by the Index, spending a total of US$360 billion during their visits. These numbers represent a massive source of demand for goods and services, generating business opportunities for a wide range of industries, benefiting companies large and small, and creating jobs that cover the spectrum from the highly skilled to the low-skilled. Because the demand comes from visitors from outside of the country, it is equivalent to exports, hence serving to simulate the local economies as a force multiplier that further strengthens domestic demand. In connecting the world, air travel is also vital to the well-being of the local economies in the destination cities.
London is again the world top-ranked destination city with 18.82 million international visitors expected in 2015, slightly ahead of the second-ranked Bangkok with 18.24 million. London has topped the Index in five out of seven years, except 2012 and 2013, when Bangkok held the lead position. Given the very thin margin that London has over Bangkok, about half a million international visitors, their rivalry for the top rank is likely to persist. They are followed by Paris, Dubai, Istanbul, New York, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and Hong Kong in the world top ten. Apart from Istanbul moving up from seventh to fifth rank, pushing New York and Singapore down by one rank, the top 20 in 2015 are identical to the top 20 in 2014.
CHART 7 Global Top 20 Top Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors (2015)
Table 1 shows the growth rates of the world top 20 destination cities between 2014 and 2015 (2014 rank in parenthesis). Istanbul shows the strongest growth at 11.4 percent, moving to fifth from seventh. Both Bangkok and Dubai grew by 8.0 percent, the second fastest after Istanbul.
TABLE 1 Global Top 20 Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors (2015)
London is also the top city by visitor cross-border spending, estimated at US$20.23 billion in 2015. This is over 16 percent higher than the second-ranked New York at US$17.27 billion, underscoring London's preeminent position as a leading destination city. Even though Bangkok ranks second in international visitors, it ranks seventh in visitor spending, reflecting its lower costs of Living.
CHART 8 Global Top 20 Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitor Spend (2015)
In spite of ranking only seventh in visitors' cross-border spending, however, Bangkok has the fastest growth rate in visitor spending at 11.8 percent between 2014 and 2015. Kuala Lumpur's growth is the second fastest at 8.7 percent; followed by Istanbul and Dubai respectively. However, eight of the top 20 show contraction in visitor cross-border spending in 2015 which is to a large extent the result of the depreciation of their currencies against the U.S. dollar, which is used to estimate cross-border spending for all the destination cities. The biggest contraction is seen in Tokyo (-6.8 percent), followed by Sydney, Barcelona, Taipei, Madrid and Rome. While the currencies of Thailand, Malaysia, Turkey and the UAE have also depreciated against the U.S. dollar, their visitor spending has increased strongly enough to compensate for the effects of currency depreciation to show robust growth.
Table 2 Global Top 20 Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitor Spend (2015)
The top ten destination cities in Asia/Pacific and their visitor numbers and cross-border spending are summarized in Table 3. Bangkok, ranked second in the world, is the top destination in Asia/Pacific. The Asia/Pacific ranking of the top nine out of ten are unchanged from 2014. But, Osaka moved into tenth, displacing Melbourne. In terms of cross-border spending, Seoul leads in Asia/Pacific with an expected US$15.2 billion, followed by Singapore at US$14.7 billion, Bangkok at US$12.4 billion, Kuala Lumpur at US$12.0 billion, and Taipei at US$9.3 billion.
TABLE 3 Asia/Pacific's Top 10 Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors and Cross-Border Spending (2015)
Chart 9 shows the contributions to Bangkok from its top five feeder cities. All five are in Asia/Pacific, and the most important feeder city for Bangkok is Hong Kong, accounting for 1.5 minion visitors and just over US$1 billion in spending. Singapore follows with about 1.3 million visitors and US$647 million spending, and so on.
CHART 9 Bangkok's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
Singapore's top five feeder cities are also all from Asia/Pacific. Jakarta looms Large as the top feeder city for Singapore, contributing 1.7 million visitors and US$2.7 billion with an average spend per visit at impressively high at US$1,550. This is far above those from the other top feeder cities of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila and Shanghai.
CHART 10 Singapore's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
CHART 11 Kuala Lumpur's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
Chart 11 shows Kuala Lumpur's top five feeder cities, which are clustered in Southeast Asia and the two Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Singapore is the most important feeder city for Kuala Lumpur, accounting for 1.2 million visitors and US$1.3 billion in spending.
From the perspective of cumulative growth since 2009, the top ten fastest growing destination cities in Asia/Pacific are summarized in Table 4. Colombo in Sri Lanka is the fastest growing with a CAGR of 21.1 percent, albeit coming off a very tow base, with just over one million visitors in 2005. Chengdu in the Sichuan Province of China is the second fastest growing, with a CAGR of 20.7 percent. It is also growing from a tow base, with about 1.5 million visitors in 2015. Osaka is the third fastest, but it is already a top-ranked destination city with 4.6 million visitors in 2015. Osaka's strong growth in recent years is due to a massive increase of visitors from China, which has also driven up growth of visitors to Tokyo, making it the sixth fastest growing in Asia/Pacific. Bangkok, the world second-ranked, has managed an impressive CAGR of 11.7 percent, putting it in tenth, in terms of growth rates in the region.
TABLE 4 Asia/Pacific Fastest Growing Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors (2009 - 2015 CAGR)
London, the world's number one, is naturally the top-ranked in Europe as well. It is followed by Paris and Istanbul in second and third respectively. Istanbul, however, has a much higher growth rate than Paris. If these two cities continue to grow their international visitors' numbers at the current rates, in four years, Istanbul will overtake Paris to become second-ranked in Europe. In terms of visitor cross-border spending, London is also ranked first with over US$20 billion estimated for 2015, followed by Paris, Barcelona, Istanbul, Madrid and Munich.
TABLE 5 Europe's Top 10 Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors and Cross-Border Spending (2015)
New York is the most important feeder city for London, accounting for dose to a million visitors in 2015 and about US$1.2 billion of spending. New York is followed by Amsterdam, Dublin, Frankfurt and Stockholm. Chart 12 summarizes the details of the top five feeder cities for London.
CHART 12 London's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
London is the most important feeder city for Paris in terms of visitors. Interestingly, two of the top five feeder cities for Paris are outside of Europe; New York (ranked second) and Tokyo (ranked fourth). As Chart 13 shows, in spending terms, New York is the biggest feeder city for Paris, estimated at US$632 million in 2015.
CHART 13 Paris's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
All top five feeder cities for Istanbul are in Europe, and London is the most important, followed by Paris, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, as seen in Chart 14. London is also the biggest feeder city in terms of visitor spending, estimated at US$432 million in 2015.
CHART 14 Istanbul's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
Istanbul is currently the fastest growing destination city in Europe. Three cities in Eastern Europe are also among the top ten fastest growing European destination cities: Bucharest (ranked sixth), Budapest is ranked seventh), and Warsaw is ranked eighth). The details are summarized in Table 6.
TABLE 6 Europe's Fastest Growing Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors (2009 -2015 CA GR)
The top ten destination cities in Latin America in 2015 are identical to 2014, as Lima tops the list with almost 50 percent more international visitors than second-ranked Mexico City. The Brazilian cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are in third and seventh, respectively. In terms of visitor spending, however, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic is in the top-ranked with an estimated US$2.7 billion in 2015, followed by Buenos Aires and Mexico City both with US$2.3 billion, Sao Paulo with US$2.2 billion and Lima with US$1.5 billion.
Table 7 Latin America’s Top 19 Destination Cities By International Overnight Visitors and Cross-Border Spending (2015)
The top five feeder cities for Lima are shown in Chart 15. Santiago is its biggest feeder city, followed by Buenos Aires, Miami, Bogota, and Mexico City. In visitor spending, however, BuenosAires overtakes Santiago as Lima's biggest feeder city.
CHART 16 Mexico City's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
For Mexico City, four out of the top five feeder cities are in North America. Miami is the biggest, followed by New York, Bogota, LosAngeles, and Houston. Miami is also the biggest feeder city in terms of visitor spending for Mexico City.
CHART 17 Sao Paulo's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
Sao Paulo's top feeder cities, in comparison, are within the region with the exception of Miami, which is ranked third. The biggest is Buenos Aires in both number of visitors and their spending.
Lima, apart from being the top-ranked destination city in Latin America, is also the region's fastest growing. Mexico City, which is ranked second in international visitors, is only the fourth fastest growing, lagging behind Bogota and Punta Cana. Details of the growth rates of the top eight destination cities in Latin America are summarized in Table 8.
TABLE 8 Latin America's Fastest Growing Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors (2009 -2015 CAGR)
Dubai, fourth in the world, is the top-ranked destination city in the Middle East and Africa region. Dubai is very much in a league of its own in the region It attracts 14.3 million international visitors in 2015, over three times more than the second-ranked Johannesburg. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi follow in third and fourth, with 4.3 million and 2.7 million respectively. Another South African city, Cape Town, is in fifth, with close to 2 million international visitors. Dubai's is also in the top rank in terms of visitor cross-border spending, estimated at US$11.7 billion in 2015, four and a half times bigger than the second-ranked Johannesburg. As Chart 6.1 shows, the rest of the top ten destination cities in the region tend to have between US$1 billion to US$2 billion in visitor spending, with visitor spending in Casablanca estimated at US$600 million.
TABLE 9 Middle East & Africa's Top 10 Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors and Cross-Border Spending (2015)
Dubai's top five feeder cities are Doha, London, Kuwait, Muscat, and Jeddah as shown in Chart 18. London's contribution as a feeder city to visitor spending in Dubai, however, is the biggest at US$1.34 billion estimated for 2015, which is about double the size of visitor spending from Doha at US$740 million.
CHART 18 Dubai's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
CHART 19 Johannesburg's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
The two top feeder cities for Johannesburg are in Europe - London and Frankfurt. They are followed by Harare, Maputo, and Windhoek in the southern Africa region. London and Frankfurt are also in the first and second ranks in terms of visitor spending in Johannesburg.
CHART 20 Riyadh's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
Riyadh's top five feeder cities are all in the region. Cairo is in the top rank, followed by Dubai, Amman, Doha, and Alexandria. In terms of visitor spending in Riyadh, the ranking is almost the same, with exception that Alexandria is fourth and Doha fifth.
In terms of grow rate, Abu Dhabi is the region's top-ranked destination city with an impressive CAGR of 20.4 percent between 2009 and 2015. Riyadh follows closely behind at 18.0 percent. The details are summarized in Table 10.
TABLE 10 Middle East & Africa's Fastest Growing Destination Cities Di International Overnight Visitors (2009 - 2015 CAGR)
New York, ranked sixth in the world, is the top-ranked in North America in international visitors in 2015. It is followed by Los Angeles and Miami in second and third, respectively. The Canadian cities of Toronto and Vancouver follow in fourth and fifth, with Montreal in eighth. New York is also tops in the region in visitor spending, estimated at US$17.4 billion in 2015, which is more than 2.3 times bigger than the second-ranked Los Angeles at IJS$7.4 billion. The details of the top ten in North America are summarized in Table 11.
TABLE 11 North America's Top 10 Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors and Cross-Border Spending (2015)
With the exception of Toronto, four out of five of New York's biggest feeder cities are from outside of North America. The biggest is London, followed by Sao Paulo, Paris, Toronto, and Beijing. Even though Beijing is in the fifth rank in terms of visitor numbers, it is the biggest feeder city for New York in terms of spending, estimated at US$1.3 billion in 2015, more than Sao Paulo's US$1.2 billion, and London's US$1.1 billion, another sign if the far-reaching impact of the massive increase in outbound travel in China.
CHART 21 New York's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
CHART 22 Los Angeles' Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
Los Angeles also has very diversified feeder cities. London is the biggest, followed by Vancouver, Shanghai, Tokyo and Paris. In visitor spending terms, Shanghai is the biggest with an estimated US$896 million in 2015, much higher than Tokyo, in second place, at US$506 million. Like New York, Los Angeles is also feeling the impact of the massive increase of outbound travel from China. Paris followed with US$409 million, London with US$352 million, and Vancouver with US$101 million
CHART 23 Miami's Top 5 Feeder Cities (2015)
Miami is closely connected with Latin America as four out of its top five feeder cities are in that region. The exception is London, which is in the third rank. Sao Paulo is top-ranked, followed by BuenosAires, London, Bogota and Caracas. Sao Paulo is also first, in terms of visitor spending in Miami, which is estimated at US$1.2 billion in 2015, almost twice as high as spending by visitors from second-ranked BuenosAires.
In terms of CAGR, Houston is the fastest growing in North America since 2009 at 10.5 percent. It is the only destination city in North America with double digit CAGR. It is followed by Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco. The details are summarized in Table 12.
TABLE 12 North America's Fastest Growing Destination Cities by International Overnight Visitors (2009- 2015 CAGR)
International visitors and their spending play an increasingly critical role in boosting economic dynamism in destination cities around the world. As mentioned earlier, the global economic recovery remains tentative and uneven, and demand for exports continues to be weak. In this context, stronger growth in international visitors and spending can make a significant contribution to income and employment generation for the destination cities.
How resilient are the destination cities in this more challenging global economic environment? One way to assess it is to look at how many feeder cities account for 50 percent of their international visitors. The more the feeder cities, the more diversified the source of international visitors a destination city has, and, everything else being equal, the more resilient it becomes. Table 13 summarizes the estimates of number of feeder cities that account for 50% of international visitors for the top 20 most diversified destination cities in the world. It turns out that Istanbul, ranked sixth in the world in international visitors, is the most diversified, with 50 percent of its international visitors coming from 33 feeder cites. London, the top-ranked in the world, in the second most resilient with 26 feeder cities followed by Paris, Amsterdam and Dubai.
Asian destination cities, which are among the fastest growing in the world, appear to be less diversified and hence less resilient. Bangkok, ranked second in the world as a destination city, is in seventh place in resilience, with only 13 feeder cities accounting for 50 percent of its international visitors. Singapore, ranked seventh in the world, is tenth in resilience, while Hong Kong, ranked tenth in the world, is in 12th place in resilience.
The challenge going forward for many of these otherwise very successful destination cities is to diversify their sources of visitors while maintaining their robust rates of growth.
[End of Report]
 It is based on weekly non-stop flight frequencies to and from other destination cities, adjusted for capacity, with a heavier weight assigned to inter-region flights, and the value of London in 2009 is set as 100. Please see Appendix for more details.
Tagsconsumer research, consumer spending, travel, Asia Pacific, Travel, Insights
Growth Potential of Destination Cities
Top 20 Global Destination Cities in 2015
Top 10 Destination Cities in Asia/Pacific
Top 10 Destination Cities in Europe
Top 10 Destination Cities in Latin America
Top 20 Destination Cities in Middle East & Africa
Top 10 Destination Cities in North America