For years, affluent western cities such as New York, London, and Paris topped the list of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Voyages to cities in poorer and developing countries were, at one time, a rare occurrence reserved for the adventurous traveller. But the newest UN World Travel data indicates that travel to a new set of destinations within the world's developing countries is rapidly on the rise.
Budapest, Mumbai, and Beijing are among the hottest new destinations today for global travellers. In fact, their rise is part of a broader global trend in which "emerging" economies (particularly in Asia and Central Europe) have experienced rapid growth in tourism rates over the past 10 years. Since 2000, while tourism to advanced economies has grown 31.4%, travel to emerging economies has increased by a whopping 89.1%.
The reasons behind this rapid growth are particularly fascinating, considering the global economic crisis. Part of the reason for the narrowing gap in tourism rates likely has to do with the booming growth many developing markets have experienced. According to the World Bank, GDP in emerging economies has grown expansively over the past 12 years (at 56.6% from 2000 to 2012). As these economies grow, travelers are able to receive more and more high-quality services in hotels and restaurants for lower costs than the traditional destinations.
Overall, the countries benefiting from booming tourism industries today seem to have developed particularly fine-tuned strategies to attract tourists. No region in the Western hemisphere has seen its tourism industry grow by more than 3.6% in the past year. By comparison, as emerging economies have developed, tourism dollars have helped fuel their 21st century expansion and incentivized industries that cater to global markets.
This has prompted these countries to prioritize developing travel and leisure activities in their countries. In India, for example, tourism maintains around 20 million jobs, and employs around 10% of Indians. After tourism dipped this year in the face of high-profile cases of sexual violence, the Indian government has spearheaded efforts to improve safety for foreign travellers in order to put tourism dollars back in Indian banks.
While an expanded tourism sector in emerging markets is great for global development and can provide a wonderful opportunity for cross-cultural exchange, the relatively stagnant growth in the tourism sector in Western countries should be a useful reminder to countries like the United States that tourism can contribute to economic growth. The newest trends in tourism data reveal that conventional destinations should not rely on their historical prowess as travel meccas to assume they will remain popular tourist destinations forever.