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Euromonitor International is pleased to release the results of its first Top 150 City Destinations Ranking, providing insight into the the world’s leading and most dynamic cities in terms of tourist arrivals.

London ranked top in Euromonitor International’s Top 150 City Destinations. The British capital received an impressive 15.6 million international visitors in 2006, far above other world capitals such as Bangkok, Paris, Singapore or New York.

The 150 leading world destinations accounted for 27% of the global inbound tourism in terms of arrivals. Cities are the key driver of growth in the tourism industry, benefiting from the development of the air industry and the investment in infrastructure and iconic buildings. From Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum to Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers, the new skylines of cities attract millions of tourists to their airports and hotels, boosting the tourism industry to unprecedented levels.

With China emerging as a key travel and tourism market, the prospect of city tourism cannot help but look East. Will London resist the push?

London storms ahead of the pack

London attracted 15.6 million international visitors in 2006 to rank first in Euromonitor International’s Top 150 City Destinations. The gap between the UK capital and other major cities increased as the presence of tourists in London’s streets increased by 13% up on 2005.

Bangkok (2), Paris (3) and Singapore (4) follow London respectively, with around ten million tourists each. Hong Kong ranked 5th with 8 million, while the six-million-club included New York (6), Dubai (7) and Rome (8).

In 2006, 27 cities received more than 3 million international arrivals and 67 cities over a million. Overall, these 150 cities received 237 million tourists, accounting for 27% of the world’s inbound tourism flows. The top150 cities received 6% more tourists than in 2005.

Top 150 City Destinations 2006

CityRanking‘000 tourist arrivals
London115,640
Bangkok210,350
Paris39,700
Singapore49,502
Hong Kong58,139
New York City66,219
Dubai76,120
Rome86,033
Seoul94,920
Barcelona104,695
Dublin114,469
Bahrain124,418
Shanghai134,315
Toronto144,160
Kuala Lumpur154,125
Istanbul163,994
Madrid173,921
Amsterdam183,901
Mecca193,800
Prague203,702
Moscow213,695
Beijing223,593
Vienna233,339
Taipei243,280
St.Petersburg253,200
Cancun263,074
Macau273,072
Venice282,927
Warsaw292,925
Mexico302,823
Los Angeles312,513
Guangzhou322,512
Benidorm332,457
Berlin342,309
Rio De Janeiro352,185
Budapest362,043
San Francisco371,993
Orlando381,993
Miami391,972
Munich401,925
Shenzen411,904
Milan421,902
Sydney431,852
Oahu/Honolulu441,733
Cairo451,720
Florence461,715
Lisbon471,715
Las Vegas481,647
Hangzhou491,562
Marrakesh501,500
Tokyo511,467
Abu Dhabi521,459
Varadero531,448
Copenhagen541,375
Zurich551,369
Edinburgh (GB)561,338
Cape Town571,323
Zhuhai581,318
Suzhou591,286
Seville601,234
Nice611,227
São Paulo621,095
Washington DC631,062
Chicago641,062
Guilin651,021
Stockholm661,003
Tallinn671,001
Boston68997
Krakow69992
La Havana70953
Salvador de Bahia71935
Melbourne72923
Manchester (GB)73912
Salzburg (City)74874
Tianjin75850
Nanjing76843
Helsinki77842
Xi’an78801
Qingdao79795
Xiamen80792
Birmingham (GB)81779
Glasgow (GB)82741
Hamburg83739
Lyon84715
Montreal85679
Mumbai86672
Dalian87666
San Diego88650
Bruges89641
Antwerp90636
Liverpool (GB)91625
New Delhi92612
Valencia93611
Kunming94607
Granada95606
Wuxi96594
Chennai97588
Geneva98577
Agra99560
Chongquing100544
Innsbruck101536
Oslo102522
Chengdu103508
Fortaleza104503
Atlanta105477
Houston106455
Bratislava107455
Oxford (GB)108449
Foz do Iguacu109438
Gothenburg110422
San Jose111412
Luxembourg City112406
Bristol (GB)113403
Buenos Aires114395
Reykjavik115371
Nürnberg116356
Naples117356
Buzios118355
Cardiff (GB)119355
Cambridge (GB)120348
Seattle121325
Newcastle-upon-Tyne122317
Florianópolis123314
Monaco124313
Leeds125292
Brighton/Hove126265
Ghent127261
York128253
Inverness129252
Heidelberg130245
Bath131245
Dijon132242
Genova133239
Dresden134227
Reims135226
Nottingham136219
Graz137206
Reading138202
Goa139200
Linz140199
Bilbao141198
Aberdeen142195
Marseille143180
Chester144173
Jerusalem145165
Saragossa146159
Tarragona147154
Malmö148131
Bregenz14996
Turku15087
World Tourism Organisation, European Cities Tourism, National Statistics, National Tourist Boards, Local Tourism & Convention Bureaux, Trade Press (local and national newspapers, The Economist, Business Travel News), Euromonitor International.
Mainland China’s cities exclude visits from Hong Kong and Macao (and vice versa), but include visitors from Taiwan.

Iconic buildings, newer cities

Paris (3), New York (6), Rome (8), Prague (20) or Vienna (23) are all cities that have historically attracted millions of tourists and continue to do so. However, the most striking element of Euromonitor International’s Top City Destinations ranking is the dynamism of emerging destinations such as Dubai (7), Shanghai (13) and Beijing (22). Cities all across the world are reshaping their skylines in order to jump places in the race for the world’s Top Destination and tourists flock by air to visit them.

In Asia, cities such as Kuala Lumpur (15), Taipei (24) or Shanghai (13), looked to the heights to revamp their skylines. Some of the world’s tallest buildings are being built on the continent. In the Middle East, Dubai (7) opened the world tallest hotel, the eye-catching Burj Al Arab Hotel in 1999. The Gulf city also created the three largest artificial islands in the world, aptly named The World, to provide the city with luxury properties, hotels and leisure centres alongside 520kms of beaches. Abu Dhabi (52) is expected to open branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums.

Likewise, in North America, new iconic buildings are planned across the country. Seattle has recently commissioned a new library from the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas; while Milwaukee plans to open a new Modern Art Museum by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who also built Wisconsin’s brand new airport. All across the globe, cities flaunt their museums and eye-catching skyscrapers to woo foreign tourists. Architecture not only shows the dynamism and spirit of a city, but investing in iconic buildings has proved to be one of the major drivers of tourism in recent years.

Spain, from the beach to city destination – an urban transformation

One of the most impressive urban facelifts in recent years is that of Spain. The country’s tourism – which used to rely on its beaches and was showing signs of saturation – went through an intense revamp in the 1990s to overtake the US as the second most visited country in 2001.

Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic Games, not only transformed the city and the country, but marked the path for many other cities. The Catalan city wisely transformed its old town, invested heavily in infrastructure and developed a whole new city on the wave of the Olympics, attracting millions of tourists that continue to flock to Barcelona’s busy streets. The country also hosted that year the Universal Expo in Seville.

In the late 1990s, a new branch of the Guggenheim Museum radically transformed Bilbao (141) attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world. Frank Gerhy’s building showed the world how one single building could set cities firmly on the international map.

Valencia (93), with its City of Arts and Science and its brand new Opera House, both work of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, expects to jump many places in the ranking in 2007, after hosting the 32nd American Cup in summer 2006. In 2008, Zaragoza (146) will host the World Expo, which will leave iconic buildings in the city, such as an impressive bridge pavillion by Pritzker awarded architect, Zaha Hadid.

City tourism – an air matter

Airports are the gateway to the 21st century’s cities. Without the development of airports and Low Cost Carriers (LCCs), tourists across the world would have never dreamt of affordable city breaks and weekends abroad. Nowadays, it is cheap, quick and the offer of where to go has never been wider or as attractive.

European leading LCCs, easyJet and Ryanair, continue to increase their list of destinations to include North African cities such as Marrakesh (50), whose number of international tourists grew by over 30% in 2006, and expects similar growth rates in coming years. Joining the capitals’ club, including the likes of Paris, Madrid, Rome and Amsterdam, many Europeans can now opt to visit hundreds of cities such as Trieste, Malmo or Grenoble, cities that never before were accessible for most of Europeans when planning their weekends away.

European cities account for 45% of the arrivals of the Top 150 Cities. However, only five European cities ranked in the Top 25 Cities in terms of air passenger numbers. This contrasts with the presence of fifteen North American cities, although only New York ranks within the top 25 most visited cities. The discrepancy reflects the fact that the US remains largely a domestic market, however this scenario could be about to change as the new “open skies” agreement between the EU and the US, signed last April, is implemented.

The liberalisation of the air traffic between North America and Europe could bring up to 26 million additional passengers . In June 2006, Canada’s Zoom Airlines launched low cost flights between the two continents. Ryanair is also set to launch a transatlantic airline that could operate from Ryanair’s 23 European bases by 2010. Nevertheless, the current debate on green house gas emissions and the impact of air traffic on global warming could yet shape the outlook of air transportation.

Top 25 Cities by Number of Air Passengers

AirportRanking‘000 Passengers
London 11127,747
New York 22106,486
Tokyo 33100,785
Paris 4485,349
Atlanta584,846
Chicago677,028
Los Angeles761,041
Dallas860,226
Frankfurt952,810
Beijing1048,654
Denver1147,325
Las Vegas1246,193
Amsterdam1346,065
Madrid1445,501
Hong Kong1543,857
Bangkok1642,799
Houston1742,550
Phoenix1841,436
Detroit1935,972
Minneapolis2035,612
Singapore2135,033
Orlando2234,640
San Francisco2333,574
Miami2432,533
Philadelphia2531,768
Euromonitor International
1) includes Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick and City Airports, 2) includes JFK, La Gaurdia and Newark Airports, 3) includes Haneda and Narita’s Airports, 4) includes Paris Charles De Gaulle-Roissy, Paris Orly and Paris Beauvais Airports

Financial hubs and MICE tourism

Although 80% of inbound arrivals to cities are tourists, MICE travel (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) is increasingly important for cities, not only because of the higher per capita expenditure of MICE travellers, but also because of its promotional impact. From Dubai (4) to Tallinn (64) or Valencia (84), international events have helped to set cities firmly on the map of the world’s leading destinations. Investment in convention centres, hotels and travel infrastructure cannot be judged solely in terms of MICE activity, but instead as part of an integrated tourism strategy.

The globalisation of the world economy has also had a positive impact on city travel, especially with regard to global financial centres. Despite new technologies, the world financial centres of London and New York (ranked first and sixth respectively), far from dying out, have continued to attract more businesses, thus, increasing the amount of business travel to these financial clusters. Furthermore, other cities have followed suit, becoming important financial hubs. Shanghai (13), Hong Kong (5), Singapore(4) and Dubai (7) have entered the list of global financial hubs according to The Economist, alongside long-established powerhouse such as Tokyo (51), Zurich (55) or Geneva (98).

Can London attract even more tourists for the 2012 Olympics?

Top 10 Cities by Number of Meetings 2006

CityNumber of meetings
Paris1363
Vienna2316
Singapore3298
Brussels4179
Geneva5169
Helsinki6140
Barcelona7139
London8118
Amsterdam9117
New York1093
Euromonitor International, ICCA

London stands out as the world’s leading city, with nearly as many tourists as Paris and New York put together. Furthermore, its airports received as many passengers as Paris and Frankfurt combined in 2006. In 2012 the UK capital will host the Olympic Games but can London cope with more arrivals?

Heathrow’s brand new Terminal 5, due to open in March 2008, will allow London to handle a further 30 million passengers per year , providing much needed relief to its overcrowded airports. The fact that the two leading European LCCs have their largest base in the British capital, easyJet and Ryanair, will also grant millions of tourists from all across Europe access to London within a 2hrs flight. However, it remains to be send if tourists that have discovered London in recent years will repeat their experience again as the number of routes within continental Europe expands.

The additional travel time required upon arriving at one of London’s airports into Central London from any of London’s Airports, coupled with the extra hour needed to pass through stricter security checks, could make trips to London a less than pleasant experience for tourists. Kitty Ussher, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, claimed London’s airports were discouraging business executives from travelling to the UK.

Even Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, said that London Heathrow’s Airport shamed the capital. Nevertheless, the vibrant and dynamic cultural scene, with its theatres and museums, shopping and financial district should encourage international visitors to continue to flock to London’s many attractions. Nevertheless, London’s authorities should invest wisely if they want to capitalise on the 2012 Olympic Games.

Chinese cities are set to pounce

Even if London manages to cling onto the top city spot for 2012, what seems clear is that the Top 150 City Tourism ranking will change radically in the next five years as tourism in China continues to grow and the number of flights to and from China rockets. Not only Chinese cities will outperform many others destinations in the ranking, but the economic development within China will prompt an increasing number of Chinese tourists to travel abroad as disposable incomes rise.

Shanghai (13) and Beijing (22) are both set to enter the Top 10 in 2008, when the latter will host the summer Olympic Games. However, in the longer term, the major impact of China will not be on the supply side, but instead on demand for city tourism. Asian capitals, such as Bangkok, Singapore and Seoul, alongside many Chinese towns, will benefit from the increasing purchasing power of the new Chinese middle classes. The future of city tourism will increasingly look eastwards in the future, as China will begin to emerge as a key player in global travel and tourism.

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