Today we’re going to be taking a data-driven visual journey through the top 10 countries by tourism. We’re examining the most popular national tourism destinations from 1995 through to 2019 can you guess who they’ll be. We’ll be paying attention to a few key geopolitical and social trends and both major historic and sporting events.
The mid to late 90s saw Europe absolutely dominating global tourism claiming six of the top ten spots on our list. The 90s were a period of widespread prosperity and comparative peace across the developed world. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of new technologies assured in a new era of globalization. With air travel becoming accessible to a broader percentage of the global population. Global tourism evolved as a major priority and income source for many nations. Who developed policies to monetize their landmarks and natural wonders at the start of our visualization.
France sits in the top spot. Disneyland Paris had just opened three years prior to bringing the happiest place on earth to Europe for the first time since opening. The park has attracted hundreds of millions of visitors contributing billions of euros to the French economy.
The U.S. sits in a comfortable second place hosting the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. The 90s saw a clear surge in both inbound and outbound Chinese tourism. As the country entered the second phase of its famous opening up reform policies. Dismantling much of the limiting and insular policies of its previous eras. Leading to a newly affluent middle class and unprecedented growth in the private sector. Including domestic and international tourism.
Heading into 1998 France is still our runaway leader approaching some 70 million visitors clear at the top by a 20 million person margin. It was in this year that they hosted and won the FIFA Men’s World Cup. January 1999 saw the birth of the euros initially comprised of 11 member states. These collective Nations adopted a common currency. The Euro making transnational tourism across European borders more convenient and fluid than ever before.
As we head into the new millennium we witnessed the rapid rise of Russia. As a tourism hotspot coinciding with President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. The huge devaluation of the rubble following the financial crash of 1998. As commodity prices rose consistently over the next decade. The oil-rich nation’s GDP grew on average by 7 percent per year. While international trade and tourism flourished. But just as Russia began to rise America faced its darkest hour. The events of 9/11 changed international air travel forever and notably impacted visitors.
Numbers for years to come as America loses its second-place spot to the sunny shores of Spain throughout the aughts. The world population grew by over 10% though this represented a slower pace than previous decades. It still meant an increase of nearly a billion people on the planet. That’s a lot more potential travelers as the world became more environmentally aware.
A number of countries began to resist the rapid rise of tourism including the UK. Where the planned expansion of London’s flagship Heathrow Airport was met with protests that would stretch on for the next decade. In 2008 Beijing hosted the Summe Olympics after seven years of planning. The nation staged an unforgettable opening ceremony. As China’s coming-out party to the world announcing their openness and maturation into a global economic and sporting power.
The legacy of the games led to improved public infrastructure in the capital and a framework for how to accommodate citizens from every corner of the globe. While European locations continue to become more popular than ever. Before the scale of Europe’s growth and visitor numbers cannot compete with the rise in interest for Asian, South American, African and Middle Eastern destinations from 1995 to 2017.
Europe more than doubled its number of visitors but tourism to Asia grew by an astounding 393 percent between 1995 and 2017. Amazingly it’s estimated that only 9% of Chinese citizens hold a passport compared to roughly 40% of Americans. And twenty percent of Britons meaning there’s still huge growth potential in the travel industry. The late odd saw the world consumed by the global financial crisis leading to a rare brief period of decline for the travel industry. As credit systems tightened and people saved their way through to recovery forgoing holidays and other luxuries. In the wake of European financial struggles, America manages to reclaim its second-place position.
The once-mighty Mexico falls out of the top ten list entirely for a number of years notably.
It’s during this period that we see Malaysia emerging as a new top-ten destination towards the bottom of the list. Later trading places with Thailand as Asia’s flagship destination for increasingly cost-conscious tourists heading into 2016. We see a major fall in the standings for Turkey. A near ever-present country in the top 10. This rapid decline is very likely linked to the Syrian conflict. And the rise of the Islamic state in the Middle East.
As we end mainstays like Germany, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom remain premium destinations for travelers across the globe. While France has retained its number-one spot with dozens of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Including beautiful beaches, historic museums, ski resorts and a rich tradition of culinary excellence. It’s easy to see why visitors continue to flock on mass to the region with over 35 million visitors. Thailand sits in 10th place.