The latest United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has revealed the world’s fastest growing tourist destinations for 2017 – and the results throw up a few surprises.
So what can we read into the data? Well, the fact that countries such as Egypt and Tunisia feature in the top 10 seems to indicate their ability – against the odds – to bounce back after a string of terrorist attacks.
As well as telling tales of resilience, the report also chronicles holidaymakers’ increasing appetite to travel beyond traditional destinations and forge paths on roads less travelled. The presence of Mongolia and Nicaragua in the top 10 is testament to that.
Here are the fastest growing tourist destinations so far in 2017:
Earlier this year the street artist, Banksy, opened a boutique hotel in Palestine’s West Bank, which, in hindsight, appears to have been a sage move: tourism in Palestine is booming. According to the UNWTO, the occupied territories witnessed a 57.8 per cent rise in international arrivals so far this year.
Overlooking the Israeli West Bank barrier, Banksy’s politically-charged Walled Off Hotel has likely helped raise awareness of tourism in Palestine, which is on course to welcome more than 630,000 holidaymakers by the end of the year.
Egypt’s tourist industry has had a torrid time of late. Ongoing political unrest and the downing of a Russian passenger plane in 2015 – which investigators attributed to terrorism – deterred many people from visiting the North African nation.
3. Northern Mariana Islands
Most people probably couldn’t point to this archipelago on a map, but that hasn’t stopped the Northern Mariana Islands from emerging as one of the fastest growing tourist destinations on the planet. According to the UNWTO, arrivals are up by 37.3 per cent so far this year.
The self-governing US commonwealth territory welcomed a modest 531,000 tourists in 2016, so we’re not talking about a stampede here. Just as well really because people heading to this 15-island archipelago – with its swaying palms and powdery shores – go to escape the masses, not jostle for space with them on the beach.
Okay, perhaps seeing Iceland in this list isn’t really a surprise. In fact, it has been well documented by this newspaper how popular the destination is becoming; a popularity attributed to the “Game of Thrones effect” and Icelandair, which offers passengers free stop-offs in Iceland en route to the US.
And the trend continues; according to the UNWTO, arrivals are up 34.9 per cent already this year, meaning the nation is on course to welcome nearly 2.5 million holidaymakers by the end of the year. That’s bound to heighten fears that the island is becoming a “Disneyland for adults”.
Tunisia’s tourist industry suffered a similar fate to Egypt’s following the Sousse beach massacre of 2015, when a gunman killed 38 people – most of them 30 Britons – during a shooting rampage.
The hotel where the massacre took place reopened earlier this year and the FCO has since eased its travel advice for Tunisia, which seems to have signalled a change in fortunes for the country: the UNWTO reports arrivals are up by 32.5 per cent so far this year. If the trend continues, some 7.5 million holidaymakers would visit Tunisia in 2017, not far off the 7.8 million who flocked there in 2010.
Asia’s fastest growing tourist destination, according to the UNWTO. Granted, Vietnam is not exactly a stranger to tourism; in fact, anyone who has visited Halong Bay – where junk boats packed with tourists jostle for space on polluted waters – will likely have seen the grimmer side of the country’s burgeoning tourism industry.
Visitors should probably expect more jostling because the number of international arrivals this year is already up 31.2 per cent, meaning the number of tourists visiting Vietnam should surpass 13 million by the end of 2017. Where to escape them? Our destination expert, Lee Cobaj, recommends Ninh Binh, “the inland Halong Bay”, as a less crowded alternative to the oversubscribed tourist staple.
South America’s fastest growing tourist destination may come as something of a surprise, but on paper it’s easy to see why holidaymakers are finally wending their way to Uruguay (tourist arrivals are up 30.2 per cent year-on-year).
Sandwiched between the tourism heavyweights of Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is picturesque, progressive (cannabis was legalised in 2014) and culturally sophisticated destination that’s also, incidentally, home to one of the weirdest Unesco World Heritage Sites: the Fray Bentos meat packing facility. All of which is tipped to entice nearly 4 million holidaymakers this year.
Nicaragua has not been making the news for all the right reasons recently. A Chinese plan to build a Panama Canal-rivalling waterway through the country has stoked fears that it would destroy vital wildlife habitats and not provide enough wealth locally. The plan has since been shelved.
Despite the furore, Nicaragua is emerging as a Central America’s fastest growing destination with tourist arrivals up 28.4 per cent so far this year. As well as palm-fringed beaches, the country’s revolutionary history and verdant interior adds to the appeal. Despite the steep rise in arrivals, though, fewer than 2 million holidaymakers are set to visit this year.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the list, Mongolia was once shorthand for “a very long way away” thanks to its geographical isolation amidst vast steppes and sandy deserts. But this rugged Central Asian nation now seems to be currying favour with travellers; according to the UNWTO, international arrivals are up 28.3 per cent this year.
That’s a big leap, but the starting point was somewhat small: only 400,000 odd tourists trekked there in 2017. Definitely a destination for the intrepid, Mongolia is famed for its nomadic inhabitants – with whom travellers can lodge – and mad festivals such as Nadaam, a celebration of wrestling, horse racing and archery.
The top 10, then, is bookended by destinations that live not particularly harmoniously next to one another: Israel and Palestine. They may have plenty of differences, but they share a booming tourist industry (and they do share it because many visitors arriving in Palestine do so via Israel).
According to the UNWTO, tourist arrivals in the country are up by 25.1 per cent so far this year, which, if sustained, would take the overall number of holidaymakers visiting Israel to 3.7 million by the end of the year. Israel and Palestine: the fastest growing destinations in the Middle East. Who saw that coming?