The 100 Most Popular City Destinations
The pandemic has grounded many of us, but it can’t curb human wanderlust.
Cities like Hong Kong, Bangkok, and London have led city destination rankings for years, but movement within the ranks below them—revealed in the above infographic—help to highlight the intriguing travel trends happening before COVID-19.
With data from Euromonitor International’s 2019 travel report, we can uncover where travelers are likely headed once their passports are useful again. Pulling data from 400 cities, collected into mid-2019, the report encompasses millions of international travelers who stayed at their destination longer than 24 hours.
Here’s a closer look at where travelers are likely to touch down in post-pandemic life.
Not-So-Lonely At the Top
Although the top of this list has remained fairly stable in terms of rank in recent years, two cities have seen an impressive influx of travelers.
Paris and Istanbul both made significant gains between 2017 and 2019 with 20.6% and 37.2% growth in visitors respectively:
Note that only one North American city, New York City, is found in this top 10. As well, Asian cities account for half of the leading group, with two of the top 10 cities are located in China. Although Hong Kong leads the top 100 list, political turmoil led to a marked decline of international visitors of 4.2% from 2017 to 2019.
The largest rank changes in the top 10 were made by Macau and Istanbul, but the rise was subtle. Both cities gained two spots each between 2013 and 2018, though each had sizable traveler growth rates, with Macau growing by 19.0%.
|Rank||City||Country||Arrivals (Millions)||5yr Rank Change||Growth ('17-19)|
|1||Hong Kong||China (SAR)||29.26||—||-4.2%|
|8||New York City||US||13.60||1||7.0%|
|31||Ho Chi Minh City||Vietnam||7.20||6||31.6%|
|85||Buenos Aires City||Argentina||2.69||-31||8.6%|
|98||Rio de Janeiro||Brazil||2.28||-7||3.6%|
It’s also worth noting that based on the data collected into 2019, London was projected to continue its downward trend, bringing it to 5th spot—mostly due to complications brought on by Brexit and associated visa restrictions.
Trending: Indian and Japanese Cities Take Flight
Most of the dramatic shifts in city travel patterns are happening below the top 10. Asian hot spots are gaining steam and swiftly making their way up the top 100 rankings, signaling a shift in global preferences before lockdowns began.
Take Japan for instance. The five Japanese cities in the top 100 rose by 352 places collectively since 2013. The country’s top city destinations have had an average traveler growth rate of 17.8% from 2017 to 2019. In light of Japan’s impeccable containment of COVID-19, that trend may be compounded in coming years.
Japan’s dramatic rise in the ranks is echoed by India. India’s seven cities in the top 100 have risen 229 places — with a huge average growth rate of 44.6% from 2017 to 2019. Some of that growth is the result of lifestyle tourism, particularly in the case of Delhi, which saw its traveler rate grow by 49.6% since 2017.
Prior to the pandemic, Delhi was expected to continue that steady growth and experience a leap in rank, which currently sits at 11.
With health and wellness tourism on the rise, India has gained noteworthy attention for its yoga retreats and Ayurveda practices. Delhi’s connectivity to important locations across North India has boosted inbound arrivals to the city.
— Euromonitor International
Where in the World? Asia and Europe
Asia continues to lead all other regions, followed by Europe.
Since 2013, the number of Asian cities in the top 100 has grown from 34 to 43. Asian outbound travel has also seen a surge, spurring a rise in travel campaigns from Europe and the Americas that target Asian travelers on social media platforms like WeChat.
Why the Ranking Matters: In Travel, They Trust
Before the pandemic, tourism was considered a leading and resilient economic sector.
In 2019, 1.5 billion people traveled internationally. By 2030, that number could grow to 1.8 billion—and many cities could become increasingly reliant on tourist dollars.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, cities like Macau, Cancun, Marrakech, and Las Vegas are all heavily dependent on direct tourism and travel contributions to their respective GDPs. As of 2018, more than 50% of Macau’s GDP was derived directly from tourism, while almost half of Cancun’s GDP relies on travelers.
Countries like India and the Philippines are also particularly reliant on travel. India has a related job-to-tourist ratio of two jobs for every tourist and the Philippines has a ratio of one job per tourist.
By 2030, there could be 1.8 billion tourists – just over one in five persons in the world–traveling around the globe.
— United Nations World Tourism Organization
Where to Next? Wheels Up
Millions of travelers don’t lie — the siren call of cities is undeniable. In turn, those tourists have become a major lifeforce for many of these destinations, and a boon for the international travel industry.
The pandemic has thrown these dynamics off course, with much of the world grinding to a halt since early 2020. However, it’s only a matter of time before the world opens back up again.
Although travel may look very different in the future, wanderlust doesn’t simply disappear. In fact, frustrated travelers — including digital nomads and remote workers — may have all the more reason to run away.
This Clever Map is a Window into 19th Century New York City
The early 1800s were a time of rapid change in New York City. This map shows the city in 1836, alongside the modern day metropolis.
The early 19th century was a time of great change for New York, which had already cemented its status as America’s largest city.
The opening of the Erie Canal helped turn the city into a shipping powerhouse, and there was a building boom on the horizon. Cholera epidemics, fires, and riots swept through the city at various points.
This fascinating interactive map, from Esri, is a snapshot of New York City during the tumultuous time (1836 to be exact), overlaid on the modern-day satellite map.
Getting the Lay of the Land
The base map used above is the stunning “Topographical Map Of The City and County Of New–York, and the adjacent Country”, published by the prodigious mapmaker, Joseph Colton.
For easy viewing, the map’s legend is below:
This map includes all the usual features, such as roads and prominent buildings, but it also has some clever secondary information built in as well. For one, shading indicates ares that were more built-up at the time. There are also a number of visual techniques to indicate topographical features as well. After all, NYC wasn’t as extensive as it is today, and much of the land depicted in the map is still undeveloped.
The full map is well worth exploring as well, as there are a number of beautiful illustrations throughout.
Tool tip: Click the X on the info bar to hide it. (Mobile: Click the map, then the magnifying glass.)
The Big Picture: New York City in 1836
At this point in time, development in Lower Manhattan extended until about 14th Street, where buildings began to give way to open spaces. The city’s grid pattern was beginning to take shape, following the Commissioners’ Plan laid out in 1811. At the time, New York was anticipating massive growth, and the straightforward grid pattern was an efficient way to prepare the city for rapid expansion.
In the 1800s, fire was an ever-present danger for city dwellers. In fact, a major fire tore through Lower Manhattan a year prior to when this map was published.
Points of Interest
There are a number of points worth visiting on this map.
Transit Begins to Take Shape
In the 1830s, New York City’s first railroad line—horse powered for its first few years—connected Prince Street to the Harlem River, accelerating the city’s expansion northward from Lower Manhattan. This route is still recognizable today as the Harlem Line.
One very obvious difference between the two maps is how much land has been reclaimed along shorelines in the area. Battery Park City, on the west side of downtown, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard are two prominent examples of infill. Randall’s Island, located near the top of Manhattan, is also an interesting place to observe changes in topography. Randall’s Island is actually made up of three islands that were eventually conjoined in the 1960s.
This interactive map is a great place to explore changes to NYC’s shoreline over time.
Taming the Landscape
Midtown Manhattan is worth zooming into for a couple of reasons. First, the outline of Central Park is visible, although the park would officially be approved until almost 20 years later.
As well, this topographical map clearly shows the numerous outcroppings spread across the island. Manhattan was far from flat in the 1800s, and it took a tremendous amount of effort—starting with gunpowder, pickaxes, and horse-drawn carts—to level the land.
Looking at these historical maps is a reminder that the New York City we know today is the product of hundreds of years of human effort, and that cities continue to evolve over time.
Pandemic Recovery: Have North American Downtowns Bounced Back?
All North American downtowns are facing a sluggish recovery, but some are still seeing more than 80% less foot traffic than pre-pandemic times
Pandemic Recovery: Have Downtowns Bounced Back?
As we continue on our journey towards recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, North American offices that sat empty for months have started to welcome back in-person workers.
This small step towards normalcy has sparked questions around the future of office life—will office culture eventually bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, or is remote work here to stay?
It’s impossible to predict the future, but one way to gauge the current state of office life is by looking at foot traffic across city centers in North America. This graphic measures just that, using data from Avison Young.
Change in Downtown Office Traffic
According to the data, which measures foot traffic in major office buildings in 23 different metropolitan hubs across North America, remains drastically below pre-pandemic levels.
Across all major cities included in the index, average weekday visitor volume has fallen by 73.7% since the early months of 2020. Here’s a look at each individual city’s change in foot traffic, from March 2, 2020 to Oct 11, 2021:
|City||Country||Change in Foot Traffic|
|San Francisco Peninsula||🇺🇸||-70.00%|
The Canadian city of Calgary is a somewhat unique case. On one hand, foot traffic has bounced back stronger than many other downtowns across North America. On the other hand, the city has one of the highest commercial vacancy rates in North America, and there are existential questions about what comes next for the city.
Interestingly, a number of cities with a high proportion of tech jobs, such as Austin, Boston, and San Francisco bounced back the strongest post-pandemic. Of course, there is one noteworthy exception to that rule.
A Tale of Two Cities
Silicon Valley has experienced one of the most significant drops in foot traffic, at -82.6%. Tech as an industry has seen one of the largest increases in remote work, as Bay Area workers look to escape high commuter traffic and high living expenses. A recent survey found that 53% of tech workers in the region said they are considering moving, with housing costs being the primary reason most respondents cited.
Meanwhile, in a very different part of North America, another city is experienced a sluggish rebound in foot traffic, but for very different reasons. Ottawa, Canada’s capital, is facing empty streets and struggling small businesses that rely on the droves of government workers that used to commute to downtown offices. Unlike Silicon Valley, where tech workers are taking advantage of flexible work options, many federal workers in Ottawa are still working from home without a clear plan on returning to the workplace.
It’s also worth noting that these two cities are home to a lot of single-occupant office buildings, which is a focus of this data set.
Some Businesses Remain Hopeful
Despite a slow return to office life, some employers are snapping up commercial office space in preparation for a potential mass return to the office.
Back in March 2021, Google announced it was planning to spend over $7 billion on U.S. office space and data centers. The tech giant held true to its promise—in September, Google purchased a Manhattan commercial building for $2.1 billion.
Other tech companies like Alphabet and Facebook have also been growing their office spaces throughout the pandemic. In August 2021, Amazon leased new office space in six major U.S. cities, and in September 2020, Facebook bought a 400,000 square foot complex in Bellevue, Washington.
Will More Employees Return or Stay Remote?
It’s important to note that we’re still in the midst of pandemic recovery, which means the jury’s still out on what our post-pandemic world will look like.
Will different cities and industries eventually recover in different ways, or are we approaching the realities of “new normal” foot traffic in North American city centers?
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