How many people travel abroad on holiday?
Holiday & Tourism is on the rise. In 2018 there were a 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 traveling 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 tourism 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.”
What are the most popular destinations?
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.
So which country provides the most visitors?
The number of tourists produced by a country tends to correlate with its income and population.
China’s rising wealth has resulted in a huge growth in tourism abroad, making Chinese people the world’s most abundant tourists. In 2017, Chinese tourists made 143m journeys abroad, followed by Germany (92m), the US (87.8m) and the UK (74.2m).
According to the Office for National Statistics, UK residents consistently make more visits abroad than foreign residents make to Britain. Favored destinations are Spain, France, and Italy. Three in four Britons remain within the EU, but the US was the fourth most visited location for UK citizens last year.
Tourism is growing rapidly in Russia, whose tourist numbers rose by 16% last year. France and Australia are increasingly important players, increasing by 10% and 9% respectively.
Who comes to the UK?
Unsurprisingly, London was the UK’s most popular destination, with more than half of all UK visits including a trip to the capital. Edinburgh was the second hottest tourist spot and Manchester third.
Americans top the list of arrivals, but four-fifths of the UK’s most-visiting countries were from Europe.
How important is tourism to the UK?
The tourism industry is responsible for about 2.5% of British GDP. Last year, visitors spent almost £23bn in the UK, though visitor numbers fell slightly in 2017 (a record year).
In spite of this dip, Visit Britain – the official tourism board – estimates that by 2025 Britain’s tourism industry could be worth as much as 10% of GDP and will employ more than one in 10 people.
Will Brexit have an impact?
Claudio Milano from Ostelea School of Tourism doesn’t think so, calling the supposed link between Brexit and tourism “mainly political propaganda”.
He said that the most likely impact of Brexit on the tourist industry is labor patterns. “Tourism is a sector which is based on migrant workers,” he says. “So Brexit will have more of an impact on tourism’s workforce than on the attractiveness of the UK.”
Sun, culture, jobs, growth – what’s not to like?
Er … overcrowding, rising property prices, planeloads of stag parties marauding through Euro capitals with penis-tiaras on their heads: there is a dark side to tourism.
Hotspots around the world are struggling under the weight of “over-tourism”, which threatens massive destruction of local environments and communities.
Tourists are responsible for large quantities of single-use plastics that pollute beaches and threaten wildlife, and souvenir hunters have been known to break off pieces of endangered coral to keep as memorabilia.
While traffic and overcrowding are well documented side effects of tourism, Szumilo says intense pressure on hospitals and public transport from tourists can also strain resources, leaving public services unable to cater to locals.
Szumilo highlights the impact of holiday homes on local communities. Often empty for most of the year, second homes can reduce supply for locals, limit economic growth and raise house prices.
“When we talk about travel and tourism, we think about beaches, holiday resorts, and iconic sceneries,” says Marina Novelli, professor of tourism and international development at the University of Brighton.
“We tend not to think about space politics, social justice, gender equality, poverty alleviation, environmental management or the impact that epidemics or conflicts may inflict on destinations.”
What’s to blame?
According to Milano, the phenomenon of over-tourism comes partially from the rise in global mobility. Increased transnational travel has led to rising numbers of international students, migrant workers, second home residents, and even journalists working overseas. He also emphasizes the role of neoliberalism, which he says is turning cities from “locations to destinations”.
The rise of short-term letting apps has also been blamed. Last month, 10 European cities issued a joint letter to the EU demanding help in their battle against Airbnb. The company has long been criticized for its role in housing shortages, rising house prices and displacing local residents.
What are countries doing about it?
Last month, the picturesque city of Bruges announced it would stop advertising day trips, limit the number of cruise ships docking nearby and shift docking times to ease the weekend rush.
The Unesco world heritage site has experienced a 28% rise in tourism in the past two years, with the mayor, Dirk De Fauw, doubting the city’s ability to cope with mounting numbers of tourists. “We have to control the influx more if we don’t want Bruges to become a complete Disneyland here,” he says.
Last year another Unesco world heritage site, Dubrovnik, announced limitations on cruise ships. After overcrowding in ancient alleyways, outdoor tables were also restricted, and new crackdowns were imposed on street vendors catering to swathes of tourists.
Following in the footsteps of popular Majorca, Rome – which hosts 15.2 million tourists annually – recently announced restrictions on antisocial tourist behavior. The measures include a crackdown on drunk and disorderly conduct and a ban on shirtless sightseeing.
After causing structural damage to picturesque bridges around the world, love padlocks – attached by romantic partners – are also coming under the new regulation.
Bridges in Paris have already begun their removal, with the deputy mayor saying “They spoil the aesthetics of the bridge, are structurally bad for it and can cause accidents”.
Hardly the best omen for relationships, but perhaps the only way to save the City of Love.
However, these targeted measures may not be enough. Milano says that to meaningfully change the tourist industry, we first need to change the way we understand it.
“Tourism is generally only measured in the number of international arrivals, but we need new indicators and a new set of measures of tourism,” he says. “For example, do we have gender equality in our tourist industries? Why are men always executives? Are jobs in tourism decent? What about the liveability of local residents? It’s a question at a political level about how we define and understand tourism.”