When it comes to the world’s most popular destinations, two travel hubs have been in a tug-of-war match for the title of ‘most-visited’ over the past few years.
While London took the top spot in TripAdvisor’s Travelers Choice Awards this summer and was the most popular destination of 2015 and 2014 according to MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index, the U.K. capital was dethroned as the most-visited this year. The bustling city of Bangkok has regained that title, which it also won in 2013.
Thailand’s capital was named the most popular destination for 2016, with projected overnight visitors for the year weighing in at about 21.47 million. London ranked second with about 600,000 fewer visitors, and Paris ranked third with 18 million. For the rankings, Mastercard used data from “National Statistics Boards of the relevant countries or their Tourism Boards” pertaining to the 132 busiest destinations. In ten cities for which that data wasn’t available, Mastercard estimated overnight guests based on non-resident and airport data.
Bangkok’s immense tourism growth certainly shows. Thailand itself has become far pricier and crowded in recent years, especially on its shorelines. This spring, one popular Thai island closed itself off to tourists indefinitely because its ecosystem had become so damaged by visiting crowds.
But London and Bangkok have both had game-changing developments in travel this year. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, or Brexit, leaves the future of economic and travel relations between U.K. and European nations uncertain. Meanwhile, Bangkok has seen a rise in local bombings and terror attacks, and economic instability has become widespread. Tourism is a major part of both countries’ economies, which have taken hard hits recently—markets spiraled downward post-Brexit, and Thailand has experienced multiple recessions in the last decade.
This year’s rankings also reveal some important changes in travel elsewhere, including Osaka, Japan’s new status as the fastest-growing destination, and Dubai (fourth) again beating New York (fifth) as a top travel destination. Istanbul, which has also seen a rise in terror attacks, fell from last year’s top five and now occupies the eighth spot.
Mastercard says the biggest surprise was that Dubai’s top-ranked visitor spending has jumped to a whopping $31.3 billion to beat out London’s $19.8 billion.
“The difference between the global top 10 and the fastest-growing top 10 destination cities suggests that Asia Pacific and the Middle East and Africa have become increasingly important to the global economic landscape,” the report states. “Many cities measured on the Index have increasing growth trajectories, indicating the growing interest in both visiting and living in [those] cities.”
Here are Mastercard’s full 2016 Global Destination Cities rankings:
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