Every year, the UN world tourism organisation releases some pretty detailed data relating to all things travel. It includes figures such as the number of tourist arrivals in each country as well as how much money they make from the tourism industry. You can probably make a pretty good guess as to what the most visited country in every continent is but there may be one or two surprises.
Overall, there were over a billion trips made in 2017 around the world for what was classed as ‘tourism purposes’, a rise of nearly 7% on the previous year with the thirst to travel showing no signs of slowing down particularly with an increasing number people from developing countries being able to afford to take trips abroad. Here were the most visited countries in each continent in 2017:
The most visited Country in every Continent
North America – USA (76.9 million visitors)
No real surprises that the United States was the most popular travel destination in the Americas and the third most popular in the world. Its size certainly accounts for that to some extent with the sunny states of Florida and California hugely popular places to visit. Meanwhile New York’s big city draw remains and it has become more accessible to Europeans in recent years with a growing number of budget airlines serving the route to the Big Apple which has helped bring costs down across the board.
Elsewhere in the region, Mexico also remained very popular with over 39 million visitors, the 6th most of any country in the world while Canada received over 20 million travellers. The most visited Caribbean country was the Dominican Republic (6.2 million) while Costa Rica remained the most popular in Central America with just under 3 million.
Read more – The new age of transatlantic budget flights
South America – Argentina (6.7 million visitors)
South America has a much more even spread with Brazil, Argentina and Chile all posting figures in between 6 and 7 million. In the case of Chile, they are now receiving more than twice as many visitors as they did at the start of the decade while Colombia, Paraguay and Peru have also seen arrivals swell over the same period.
Argentina remained marginally the most popular though with the electric mega-city of Buenos Aires the main travel hub. Many also head to Argentina for the natural wilderness of the vast South, home to stunning lakes, mountains and glaciers. However over all, trips for the sheer purpose of travel were significantly less in South America than they were further North or indeed in Europe.
Read more – Patagonia Itinerary
Europe – France (86.9 million visitors)
The two most popular travel destinations in the world were both in Europe. Spain received a huge 81.8 million visitors in 2017, almost double its population. France though topped the list with 86.9 million, over four million more than visited in 2016. Despite high costs and a somewhat unfriendly reputation, Paris remains the number one location for a romantic getaway while the exclusive French Riviera is another huge draw for visitors from around the world.
6 of the top 10 most visited countries in the world were European with Italy (58.3 million), the UK (37.7 million), Turkey (37.6 million) and Germany (37.5 million) completing the list. That was a 24% rise in the case of Turkey while Iceland, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Macedonia were other countries to see an increase in visitor numbers of over 20% from 2016.
Read more – 5 European cities that are older than Rome
Africa – Morocco (10.3 million visitors)
It might be a surprise to some that Morocco is the most visited country in Africa ahead of a number of larger nations, but its close proximity to Europe makes it an easy and exotic destination for a short trip for Western and Northern Europeans. Marrakesh remains the jewel in its crown as far as visitors are concerned but Morocco is also developing its beach resorts while more adventurous travellers head into the Sahara.
Morocco’s rise to top spot in Africa, has also had something to do with a downturn in Egypt’s tourist industry following a few high profile incidents which have severely damaged its reputation as a safe place to visit (also a factor in Turkey’s rise in popularity). Egypt received a huge 14.1 million visitors in 2010 before the Arab Spring and the instability that has followed but only 8.1 million in 2017. That was still a big increase of 55% on the previous year though which suggests things are improving with airlines and travel companies gradually reinstating routes to Egypt and Tunisia, which also suffered a major downturn following the Sousse terror attack in 2015.
In terms of Sub-Saharan Africa, the country with by far the most visitors was South Africa (10.3 million), perhaps surprisingly followed by Zimbabwe (2.4 million) although many countries didn’t post official figures.
Read more – Morocco Itinerary
Asia – China (60.7 million visitors)
A bit like in the case of the United States, the sheer size of China has contributed to it attracting over 60 million visitors in the year 2017 with a range of different destinations increasingly gaining in popularity. However the figures can be interpreted in many different ways as Hong Kong (28 million visitors) and Macau (17 million) are treated as separate countries and travel between the three could easily be classed as internal rather than international travel.
Thailand was officially the second most visited Asian country with 35.4 million travellers heading to the Southeast Asian nation in 2017 and while we don’t have the figures, we are pretty sure it remains the number one destination for backpackers and budget travellers. Malaysia and Japan are also among the most visited countries in Asia. There was also over a 20% increase in travel to the Himalayan nations of Bhutan and Nepal while Vietnam saw an increase of 29% on the previous year. There was though a 23% fall in visitors to South Korea in the face of tensions with their Northern neighbour however any fears that nuclear war could break out have eased considerably since then so we should see very different numbers for 2018.
Read more – 10 Budget Travel Tips for China
Oceania – Australia (8.8 million visitors)
Australia remains a popular travel destination but its isolated location contributed to just 8.8 million visitors in 2017, the same figure as Bulgaria for example and far less than Saudi Arabia. However that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story as trips to Australia are often once-in-a-lifetime affairs for many and people tend to stay several weeks and in the case of many backpackers, several months. In terms of international tourism receipts, Australia actually ranks 7th in the world with the industry worth over $40 billion to the Aussie economy.
Elsewhere in Oceania, New Zealand received 3.6 million visitors while the US territory of Guam was the only other in the region to top a million.
Read more – New Zealand backpacking route
This article was published in October 2018.
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