Tourism is on the rise. In 2018 there were record 1.4bn international tourist arrivals, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNTWO), a rise of 6% over 2017. That doesn’t mean 1.4 billion people travel abroad for their holidays, as many people will clock up more than one trip.
But it does mean tourism is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy. In 2018, it was worth about $1.7tn (£1.3tn), or about 2% of total global GDP. Even the UNWTO is struggling to keep up, with current figures vastly exceeding expectations.
In 1950 there were 25m international tourist visits, rising to 166m in 1970, and 435m in 1990.
The growth of budget airlines has made travelling more accessible, with passengers able to fly from London Stansted to Düsseldorf for just £7.99. For many Londoners, this costs less than a day’s commute.
Nikodem Szumilo, associate professor of economics and finance of the built environment at UCL, says the growth of the global tourist industry is partly due to the rise of digital services. “The most recent development in the industry was a small revolution of online reviews and online bookings which reduced prices but increased satisfaction,” he says. “This means that more people travel more often.”
According to the UNWTO, four-fifths of tourists travel within their own region. Continuing a long term trend, Europe leads the way in overseas visits, receiving 713 million visitors last year alone.
Globally, France leads the way, followed by Spain, the US, China and Italy. The UK is the seventh most visited country in the world.
However, other regions are on the rise. Last year, trips to North Africa rose 10%, and tourism to sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East is also increasing, as demand for unconventional destinations grows.
In 2018, Uber ranked the most visited destinations around the world for its users. The Empire State Building in New York claimed first place, followed by the city’s Freedom Tower and CN Tower in Toronto. The Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower in Paris completed the top five.
Buckingham Palace, the only British attraction in the top 15, came seventh ahead of the Berlin Wall, the Vatican, Disneyland and the Egyptian pyramids.