The World's Most Popular Tourist Cities

How Bangkok became the hottest city for international travelers.

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Bangkok -- already home to the world's two most-photographed locations on Instagram -- is now the most visited city in the world by international tourists, according to the new Global Destination City Index, eking out London by less than one percent. But foreign visitors still spend more in New York than any other city by a wide margin.

A map of global tourism spending is really a map of people and money. Southeast Asian tourism has exploded with the growth of the region's upper-middle class. Chinese tourists have surged to 83 million per year, as Jake Maxwell Watts reports. Eleven of the 12 cities with the fastest increase in air travel connectivity are "east and south of Istanbul," reflecting the growth of wealth in Asia and its growing importance as a destination for businesses from the U.S. and Europe.

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Global tourism spending trends don't just tell us where populations are growing, but also where the rich are getting richer. Since 2009, spending by international tourists has grown more than twice as fast as the world GDP, a clear indication that international tourism is a barometer of the world's wealthier families and businesses, not merely its median households.

The Tourism Capitals
There are actually three "top" tourist destinations, depending on what metric you consider the most important. The most-visited city is Bangkok, which draws its tourism from Chinese cities large and small, but also strongly from Singapore and Tokyo.

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New York accommodates 4 million fewer tourists, but they spend considerably more on overpriced Broadway tickets and plastic Statuettes of Liberty. In particular, Brazilian tourists apparently go absolutely nuts in Manhattan, spending an astonishing $2200 per visitor.

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But that's not such an astonishing number when you consider that it's the average spend by ALL tourists to Tokyo. The most expensive city in the world, as measured by total spending by total number of tourists, is still the capital of Japan.

Top image: worradirek /Shutterstock.com. This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

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About the Author

  • Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.