Which countries do tourists love visiting the most?

I found a great dataset from the World Bank on tourist visits to every country in the world since 1995. I downloaded the data into an excel file and was very interested to see how different countries fared with tourist visits over the years. Overall, the number of people travelling around the world has increased from about 540 million in 1995 to 1.16 billion as of 2014 – an increase of over 100% (or about 6% per year). Clearly people like to travel.

The most widely visited country is France, and it has held that spot for 20 years. Following France are the US, Spain, China and Italy. Figure 1 below shows the total number of tourist visits among the top 5 countries (as of 2014) per year since 1995.

Figure 1 – Tourist visits in France, US, Spain, China and Italy, 1995-2014

Although France maintains a fairly commanding lead over the rest of the group, the US has been closing that gap in recent years. Interesting to see drop off in tourist visits to the US during the early 2000s, most likely due to tighter border control and passport regulation as a result of 9/11. China, which was the 7th most visited country in 1995 has climbed to 4th place, and is the only country in the top 5 that has exceeded the world’s average growth in tourism (115%) since 1995. However, since 2007, China’s tourism numbers have stagnated. The following chart shows the next 5 most visited countries in the world (as of 2014).

Figure 2 – Tourist visits in Turkey, Germany, UK, Russia and Mexico, 1995-2014

Look at that growth in tourist visits to Turkey since 1995. Notwithstanding the country’s great climate and landscapes, historical significance at the crossroads of the “east and west” and the allure of Istanbul, Turkey has done a fantastic job over the last 10-20 years in marketing itself to the world and expanding its tourism industry. I would be interested to see tourism numbers for Turkey in more recent years and whether the problems in Syria and with ISIS have impacted visits. Of the 5 countries in Figure 2, Russia experienced the second fastest growth in tourist numbers since 1995, with rapid rises during the late 1990s as well as in the period following the most recent recession. We can presume that the fall of the Berlin Wall has likely led increasing tourist visits to Russia in the late 1990s, but I am quite unsure what is causing the most recent rise. As well, the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 likely resulted in the classification of tourists from other, former Soviet states as international rather then domestic, which is possibly why there is a spike in visits during the 1990s. The next chart is where it gets a bit more interesting.

Figure 3 – Tourist visits to Canada, Poland, Ukraine and Egypt, 1995-2014

The four countries shown in Figure 4 are in the top 40 most visited countries in the world (as of 2014), but have faced tourist visiting trends different from every other country in the top 40 list. Canada for example has faced stagnating tourist visits since the early 2000s. This is largely due to our significant reliance on the US for tourism (US visitors account for roughly 75% of total international visits to Canada), coupled with tighter border control and passport regulations following 9/11, SARS in 2003, and a stronger Canadian dollar relative to the USD. Declining tourist visits to Egypt since 2009 is due to civil uprisings as a result of the Arab Spring. Ukraine’s astonishing drop in tourist visits in 2014 was mostly because of the revolutions that took place in the country from 2013, as well as the occupation and annexation of Crimea, a popular tourist spot, by Russia. With regards to Poland, I am not quite sure why the country has faced stagnating tourist visits since 1995 (but I would love to know!). Figure 4 shows the % change in tourist visits since 1995 for the 40 most visited countries in the world (as of 2014).

Figure 4 – % Change in Tourist Visits of the Top 40 Most Visited Countries (2014), 1995-2014
Canada and Poland are the only two countries of the top 40 that have experienced a drop in visits between 1995 and 2014. Croatia on the other hand leads the pack in growth, moving up from the 55th most visited country in 1995 to the 26th as of 2014. Aside from Croatia’s renowned and appealing coast line, the country, similar to Turkey, has done a magnificent job marketing itself and building up its tourism industry. What is interesting in Figure 4 is that countries with mature, established tourism industries have grown below that of the world average since 1995. In contrast, countries that have exceeded the world average growth are predominantly emerging economies. The chart below shows the countries that experienced % growth in tourist visits higher than 300% since 1995.

Figure 5 – % Change (300%+) in Tourist Visits of Countries, 1995-2014

Once again, it is evident that the countries with the most growth in tourist visits since 1995 are virtually all emerging economies. Growth in former Soviet states such as Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia really interests me. I wonder if this could partially be attributed to what I mentioned earlier with regards to Russia and the classification of tourists from former Soviet states as international rather than  domestic. There also appear to be some geographic clusters, most notably in Southeast Asia, with Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam all showing substantial growth in tourist numbers.

I’ve always been interested in causality. So if any of my readers out there know why certain countries faced such sweeping changes in tourist visits, I would love to know!

As well, if anyone is interested in seeing how a particular country has fared with tourist visits over the year, give me a shout and I can create a chart for you.


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