Top 100 City Destinations Ranking – Published 2012

Euromonitor International is pleased to release its latest Top City Destinations Ranking, covering 100 of the world’s leading and most dynamic cities in terms of international tourist arrivals. After recording a decline in 2009, international arrivals to countries regained growth in 2010, positively impacting results for the top 100 cities, which saw arrivals increase by 7%. Star performers in 2010 were emerging city destinations located in Asia Pacific, thanks to a strong economic environment and growing travel and tourism dynamism. Most European cities lagged behind as a result of the weak economic prospects in the Eurozone, which impacted intra-regional travel.

Top three destinations

In 2010, Hong Kong, Singapore and London were the most popular city destinations worldwide. Hong Kong topped the ranking with almost 20 million arrivals in 2010 and an outstanding 18% increase compared to 2009. The booming economy of Hong Kong coupled with its growing appeal as a travel and tourism destination is drawing more business and leisure travellers each year. In 2010, mainland China remained the largest source market for Hong Kong, accounting for approximately 60% of arrivals.

Singapore was the second most visited city, attracting 18 million tourists in 2010 – 16% more than in 2009. The Singapore Tourism Board launched a 3-pronged approach – Innovation, Integration and Productivity – in 2010 that focused on luxury travel as well as the further consolidation of MICE, travel accommodation and tourist attractions throughout the city. The opening of new tourist attractions like the Marina Sands Resort Sky Deck, new casinos operated by the Las Vegas Sands Corp and by Malaysian-owned Resorts World Sentosa, new shopping centres like the Orchard Central, the Universal Studios Singapore and the Helix Bridge helped bring international visitors to the city.

London closely followed Hong Kong and Singapore in third position, with 15 million arrivals in 2010. London is by far the most popular city in Europe, benefiting from a wide mix of entertainment options, including historical sites, art galleries and restaurants, which make it highly appealing for all kind of visitors. Nevertheless, the city is under pressure, having recorded sluggish 3% growth in 2010 in the face of increased competition from other destinations like Hong Kong and New York City.

Top City Destinations Ranking 2010

‘000 2010
      % volume growth
Hong Kong119,97318.0
Kuala Lumpur710,35110.0
New York City88,9614.2
Las Vegas175,1300.8
Los Angeles204,5501.1
Punta Cana283,5213.1
San Francisco352,9296.3
Sharm el Sheikh452,55810.0
Buenos Aires462,50913.6
St Petersburg472,5007.8
Ho Chi Minh502,43528.4
Mexico City592,0283.8
Rio de Janeiro631,9297.0
East Province681,877-11.2
São Paulo691,8254.5
Chiang Mai731,7695.0
Abu Dhabi811,62412.8
Washington DC831,56922.4
Cape Town871,4864.9

Source: Euromonitor International

*London travel information updated 2.27.11 to reflect final figures from 2010. Previous data was an estimate. 

Vietnamese cities record robust growth

Vietnamese cities, Ho Chi Minh City and Halong, recorded the strongest growth in arrivals, at around 28%, in 2010. Rising disposable incomes and improving living standards in Asia Pacific were key contributing factors, as travelling became more affordable. It is also worth noting that improved government policies in Vietnam helped attract more inbound tourists in 2010.

Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam. It is the centre of the country’s economy, contributing one-third of Vietnam’s GDP. The city is famous for its remnants from the French War and US War, such as Independent Palace, Notre Dame Saigon (Immaculate Conception Cathedral Basilica), War Remnants Museum, and many modern skyscrapers. It also houses the busiest airport in Vietnam, and acts as the transfer point for many tourists who want to visit other places in the country.

Halong is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bay features thousands of limestone hills and mountains in various sizes and shapes. The limestone in this bay is said to have gone through 500,000 years of formation. With beautiful landscapes, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam.

Upcoming sporting events to foster future visits in Kiev, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

Upcoming large sporting events like the Euro 2012 football championship, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games are expected to be the main drivers of inbound tourism development in host cities such as Kiev, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the near future.

In preparation for these events, all cities are aggressively investing in infrastructure development, which is set to positively impact the future of travel and tourism. In Kiev, for example, government authorities are paying special attention to the modernisation of airports as these will serve as points of arrival for most Western Europeans. All major events are key to boosting travel and tourism before, during and after the events through increased awareness of the host cities, mainly as leisure tourism destinations.

Tokyo rebounds

Tokyo rebounded strongly in 2010, after recording a 17% decline in arrivals in the previous year. The removal of the ban on visas for individual Chinese travellers back in July 2009, coupled with the completion of expansion projects at Narita International Airport and Tokyo Haneda Airport during 2010, were key in fostering inbound flows during 2010. Ongoing support for the Visit Japan Campaign (VJC) was also key in attracting more tourists to the city in 2010 from India, Russia and Malaysia. However, the tsunami disaster in March 2011 will lead to declining arrivals in the near term.

Antalya welcomes new tourists

As growth in arrivals from main source countries like France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria slowed significantly in 2010, Antalya saw a new wave of tourists from the Middle East, Asia Pacific and Eastern European countries, including Iran, Japan and Russia, flock to the city. This resulted in a strong 20% rise in arrivals in 2010, to almost 11 million tourists, up from nine million in 2009.

With very long coastal areas and a great deal of natural beauty, Antalya works as a magnet for tourists from colder countries like Russia. In the past few years, golf tourism has also turned into an important growth driver for tourists travelling to the city. In Turkey, most golf facilities are in the vicinity of tourist resorts, around the coastal regions which have the necessary facilities like accommodation, restaurants and entertainment. The Ministry of Tourism plans to establish another 11 golf courses in these tourist areas as well as in Istanbul.

Steady growth ahead

Euromonitor International foresees an even stronger growth for arrivals in 2011. Uncertainty in the global economy, especially in the US and Europe, which are major tourism source markets, is likely to cause slower, but still positive, growth. The hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games in London is likely to alleviate some of the pressure felt by the UK city as a tourist destination as it benefits from increased media exposure and stronger arrivals in the short term.

Euromonitor International expects cities in emerging markets to continue to steal share of global arrivals, especially in Asia Pacific. This shift will be accelerated by the expansion of low-cost carriers, open skies agreements and rising middle classes that are travelling in ever greater numbers, especially intra-regionally. This is likely to give rise to international city break packages from travel retailers.

Given the uncertain economic outlook for developed markets, there is still the challenge of a possible shift in consumer behaviour. With less disposable income, travellers may be prone to taking fewer and shorter trips to save money. Also, cost-conscious consumers will use the internet to run price comparisons and seek the cheapest forms of transport, which may hinder the industry’s ability to raise prices. Even among high-income travellers, value for money will remain important in the future. While people may be willing to spend more on travel, they will make sure it is money well spent.


Annual research programme

Euromonitor International’s Top City Destinations Ranking (2011 edition) was built from the results of the global travel research programme conducted in 58 core countries by in-country analysts, which follows Euromonitor International’s methodology and definitions for travel and tourism.

City arrivals data was sourced directly from national statistics offices, airport arrivals, hotel/accommodation stays or other methods for all 58 core countries and 150 market insight countries under review.

Main secondary sources included governmental, inter-governmental and other official sources; national and international specialist trade press and trade associations; industry study groups and other semi-official sources; and reports published by major operators, travel retailers, online databases and the financial, business and mainstream press. Trade interviews were conducted with national tourist offices, trade associations and travel operators to fill gaps in secondary research.

Country data was then cross-checked on a regional basis by the regional research teams based in London, Vilnius, Chicago and Singapore. Examples of regional sources reviewed included TourMis and European Cities Marketing for Europe. Further top-down checks were conducted by the in-house global research team. Where irregularities were found between editions, supplementary research was conducted to confirm or amend those findings. Euromonitor International is satisfied that the results of the in-country research, coupled with the top-down global perspective, ensure that the Top City Destinations Ranking is robust with a high level of data validation.

It is important to note that the Top City Destinations Ranking is not an exhaustive list and that its purpose is to highlight leading cities gleaned from the findings of Euromonitor International’s annual research programme.

Research Methodology by City

ScreenHunter_06 Jan. 04 11.50

Source: Euromonitor International


International arrivals by city includes visitors from abroad that arrive at the city under review as their first point of entry, and also includes those visitors to the city that arrived in the country via a different point of entry, and then go on to visit the city in question during their trip.

Arrivals refers to international tourists, for example, any person visiting another country for at least 24 hours, for a period not exceeding 12 months, and staying in collective or private accommodation. Each arrival is counted separately and includes people travelling more than once a year and people visiting several countries during one holiday. Domestic visitors are excluded.

Euromonitor International’s arrival figures exclude same-day visitors, transit and cruise passengers as this can distort arrival figures at important border crossings and cruise destinations respectively. It also excludes those in paid employment abroad. Students that stay in a country for a period of more than 12 months are excluded and are considered as temporary residents. Military personnel and transportation crew are excluded, along with displaced people because of war or natural disasters.

In this edition of the Top City Destinations Ranking, changes were made to Hong Kong, Macau, Beijing and Singapore in line with Euromonitor International’s project definitions and industry consensus regarding arrivals data. Overnight visitors from mainland China are now included in the Hong Kong arrivals data. Overnight visitors from mainland China and Hong Kong are included in the Macau arrivals data. Overnight visitors from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are included in the Beijing arrivals data. Singapore includes an estimate for land arrivals from Malaysia, which explains why figures are higher than totals published by national statistics offices.

Country/City Notes

  • All countries/cities exclude day trippers and domestic visitors
  • Singapore includes Malaysian citizens arriving by land
  • Saudi Arabia official data is for provinces only

Note from Caroline Bremner, Head of Travel and Tourism Research, Euromonitor International:

The leader board for the Top City Destinations Ranking (2011 edition) has changed since the 2010 edition, with Hong Kong and Singapore now higher in the ranking than London which was previously ranked as the number one city world-wide.

The main reason for the change at the top was due to Euromonitor International updating its definition of international city arrivals in keeping with the definitions used during its annual research programme. These definitions are based on industry consensus and take into account the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and Tourism Satellite Account’s view regarding what constitutes an international arrival and an arrival by country of origin.

This definitional alignment subsequently led to changes being made to Hong Kong and Singapore, amongst others. In keeping with industry definitions, overnight visitors from mainland China are now included in the Hong Kong arrivals data and Singapore arrivals include an estimate for land arrivals from Malaysia.

Every year the travel and tourism research team at Euromonitor International strive to improve on the previous edition, with the aim of providing greater transparency. As always, we welcome your feedback.

Useful reference

Passport: Travel and Tourism