The story for several nations last year was one of continued recovery in terms of tourism. Take Turkey. It endured a year to forget in 2015, when security concerns saw visitor numbers fall from 39.5 million to 30.3 million. Last year it clawed back much of that ground, with 37.6 million overseas tourists exploring its ancient sites or flopping on one of its beaches.
This year looks certain to be its biggest yet, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) forecasting 46 million visitors, an increase of 22.4 per cent. That is based on figures up to and including September 2018 — the exact total won’t be known until early this year — and it should be enough to see Turkey leapfrog the UK and Mexico to become the world’s sixth most-visited country.
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Tunisia is also resurgent. The terror attack in Sousse meant visitor numbers fell to 5.4 million in 2015. They steadied to 5.7 million in 2016, rose to 7.1 million last year, and are expected to increase again to around 8.3 million for 2018 (up 16.9 per cent).
But which was the fastest-growing travel destination in 2018? Even without the final figures, the majority of countries have supplied the UNWTO with data for the first nine months of the year. And topping the chart for year-on-year growth is a South American nation that’s home to an Avenue of Volcanoes and a train trip called The Devil’s Nose: Ecuador.
This country is predicting an increase in visitor numbers of 56.1 per cent, from 1.6 million to around 2.5 million, and appears to be reaping the rewards of a long-term plan to boost tourism through increased marketing. However, in 2018 fears were raised that “overtourism” may be putting Ecuador’s biggest draw, the Galapagos Islands, at risk. There is currently a cap on the number of cruise ships that can visit the remote archipelago but land-based tours are not so tightly controlled.
Ecuador’s neighbour, Colombia, is also experiencing a tourism boom (up 32.8 per cent from 4 million visitors to 5.3 million), something many have put down to the popularity of the Netflix series Narcos. Stanley Stewart of Telegraph reported earlier in 2018 on how Medellin has transformed itself from murder capital to hipster holiday destination. “Today Medellin feels newborn,” he writes. “It helps that the setting is gorgeous. The city lies in a long valley between two Andean mountain ridges. Capital of Antioquia province, a region famous for its coffee plantations and its flower farms, for its orchids and butterflies, it is known as the City of Eternal Spring for its idyllic climate. Everywhere you turn there seem to be new things happening.”
Vietnam’s rise goes on, driven largely by waves of visitors from China. In 1990 just 250,000 foreigners visited. That grew to 12.9 million in 2017. For 2019 it will be around 15.8 million (up 22.4 per cent).
After Turkey, Europe’s fastest-growing destination is Albania (up 19.8 per cent to 5.5 million).
The tiny South Pacific island of Tuvalu appears near the top of the table — but it had 2,000 visitors last year, so its 35.5 per cent increase will only amount to 700 extra travellers. It is still the least-visited nation on the planet, according to UNWTO — head there for serious bragging rights.
There were losers as well as winners, including the UK. The first six months of 2018 saw a 6.8 per cent fall in arrivals. Should that trend continue for the whole year, arrivals will drop from 37.7 million to 35.1 million. Early indications suggest it is the biggest slump by a major tourist destination.
Several minnows had a steeper drop, including Timor-Leste (-17.7 per cent, up to and including June) and Papua New Guinea (-26.5 per cent, to June).
Anguilla was hit by Hurricane Irma, so its 49 per cent fall in visitors (up to July) is unsurprising.
So too is St Maarten’s 74.8 per cent decline (to June).
Political unrest hit Nicaragua this year, contributing to a 26.7 per cent fall in visitors (to September).
The Daily Telegraph