The world’s top 10 largest cities for tourism

15 Aug 2019 | by Les Roches


The latest figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) reveal how the strength of urban tourism echoes that of the wider economy. Cities in China and the USA lead the way, but rapidly growing markets such as Mexico and Thailand feature in the top 10, as well as a long-term powerhouse of European hospitality.


The top 10 cities in the world, based on the size of their tourism market:

1. Shanghai (US$35bn)
2. Beijing ($32.5bn)
3. Paris ($28bn)
4. Orlando ($24.8bn)
5. New York ($24.8bn)
6. Tokyo ($21.7bn)
7. Bangkok ($21.3bn)
8. Mexico City ($19.7bn)
9. Las Vegas ($19.5bn)
10. Shenzhen ($19bn)


Up from 8th to 1st

In at number one is a city Les Roches MBA students know very well, thanks to a recent one-week field trip as part of their studies. In just 10 years, Shanghai has moved from the 8th largest city in terms of Travel & Tourism GDP, to the number one spot. And all forecasts suggest that China’s largest city will hold on to its top ranking for a further 10 years, until 2027.

This rapid and sustained growth, combined with the continued emergence of the affluent Chinese middle class, and increasing disposable income, has underlined the importance of Shanghai as a learning hub for MBA students. 

Over half a billion trips are made to cities annually, representing 45% of global international travel.

Unlike in the US, where the split between domestic and international spend is more balanced, China’s tourism market relies heavily on domestic travellers. Providing a fascinating insight into domestic travel into cities, WTTC President & CEO, Gloria Guevara, commented, “With 54% of the world’s population living in urban areas, cities have become global economic hubs, driving growth and innovation. They attract huge quantities of people who travel to experience their culture, do business, and live. This growth has also resulted in a rise in city tourism – a trend which is forecasted to maintain momentum.”

“Our Report highlights the crucial importance of cities to Travel & Tourism worldwide, and likewise how vital this sector is to the economy. Over half a billion trips are made to cities annually, representing 45% of global international travel.”


Double the size of Paris

By 2027, Shanghai’s predicted contribution from travel and tourism to Chinese GDP is double what Paris will contribute to the French economy. Incredible, but you can begin to understand this growth when data shows the French capital relies heavily on international travel, while Shanghai serves more domestic travellers. The population in China is only going to get more affluent, infrastructure is going to improve and the marketing of such cities across the whole of the country will become more advanced. 


Culture Vs entertainment 

It’s interesting to consider the traveller motivations to visit each of these top 10 cities. For the most part, they are intense cultural hubs for the countries they represent – Bangkok, Tokyo, New York, Paris, Mexico City, etc. But in Las Vegas and Orlando, you have two unique destinations that offer a different draw to visitors; entertainment in the form of theme parks and gambling/shows, respectively.

Does this make tourism more sustainable long-term, as there will always be a demand for pure entertainment? Or is it a risk, as customer desires shift towards unique, one-off experiences? Two things are for sure, the Western powerhouses of tourism will have to keep up with the emerging markets, and there will be an even greater demand for innovative and entrepreneurial hospitality leaders.


Discover more from the MBA Shanghai Field Trip:

Les Roches


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