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What are the most popular destinations in Asia?

Asia Pacific

Asia Pacific’s five most popular destinations for international travelers – Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, and Seoul – welcomed over one-fifth, or 22 percent, of all overnight visitors to the region’s top 161 cities and regional centers in 2018.

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This is according to Mastercard’s Asia Pacific Destinations Index (APDI), a regional subset of the Global Destination Cities Index (GDCI), which is now in its tenth year. Primarily driven by explosive growth in outbound travel from mainland China, these five cities are also capturing more than one-quarter, or 25.2 percent, of total international travel spending in the region.

In 2018, Asia Pacific hosted travelers making 342.2 million business and leisure trips, up from 159.1 million in 2009, representing an 8.9 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the nine year period.

During the same period, travel spending in Asia Pacific more than doubled, rising from US$117.6 billion to US$281.1 billion, equating to a compound annual growth rate of 10.2 percent.

“While the world’s economic, geopolitical, technological and societal landscapes have all changed dramatically since Mastercard launched this research 10 years ago, one thing has remained constant: the desire of ever-growing numbers of people to explore the world beyond their own borders,” said Rupert Naylor, Senior Vice President, Data & Services, Asia Pacific, Mastercard.

“With the top 20 cities attracting nearly half (49.8 percent) of all international overnight arrivals to the 161 destinations ranked in the APDI, it is important to understand not only how continuously rising travel numbers impact cities and destinations for the better, but also the challenges they pose,” continued Rupert.

“This equips governments, merchants and the global travel industry with the information and insights they need to better serve their residents and visitors,” added Rupert.

Backed by a decade of destination insights, Mastercard’s 2019 APDI highlights four key trends that are shaping the future of travel in the Asia Pacific region.

Mainland China continues to exert the greatest influence over travel patterns and expenditure flows: Mainland Chinese travelers are discovering all corners of the region in unprecedented numbers, turning sleeping giants into tourism hotspots that create fertile ground for governments, tourism boards, brands, and businesses as they plan and promote their travel, transportation, and retail offerings.

Since 2009, overnight arrivals by mainland Chinese travelers in markets across Asia Pacific surged from 10.5 million to 62.4 million in 2018, representing a 21.9 percent compound annual growth rate over the period. Notably, mainland China is amongst the top three source markets of outbound travelers for 82 cities in Asia Pacific, or more than half of the 161 destinations in the APDI.

Japan is now the hottest destination in Asia: For the second year in a row, Japan is the only market in the APDI to command 25 percent of Asia Pacific’s top 20 destinations, with Okinawa nudging out Kyoto to join the list for the first time, alongside Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido and Chiba.

Okinawa, Japan’s tropical paradise, is one of the region’s fastest-growing destinations,
skyrocketing 109 places since 2009. Less-traveled cities such as Oita, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Kyoto, Gifu, and Nagano have also seen significant jumps in the rankings – earning them all a spot in the list of the region’s 10 fastest growing cities by number of visitor arrivals.

This overall uptick in travel to Japan is set to grow further, with Tokyo forecast to benefit the most from the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympic Games.

Vacation destinations prevail over the fastest rising cities: While Japanese cultural centers top the list of the 10 fastest rising cities, the bustling industrial hub of Ludhiana in India’s northern state of Punjab claims the #2 spot, having jumped 78 places in the index since 2009.

Dubbed the “Manchester of India” for its production of textiles and hosiery, Ludhiana is the only industrial city in this list of fast risers. Sri Lanka’s coastal getaway Galle is in ninth, having climbed 54 places in the rankings since 2009. While China’s panda capital Chengdu rounds out the rankings, coming in tenth after jumping 50 places in the last nine years.

Asia’s other avid travelers: While many Asia Pacific destinations are basking in the growth led by mainland Chinese travelers, South Korea and Japan are also noteworthy as the next biggest Asian origin markets fueling rising travel expenditure and overnight arrivals across the region.

Top contributor mainland China accounts for 18.2 percent of international overnight arrivals within the region, while South Korea contributes 9.1 percent and Japan makes up 6.0 percent. Another source market to watch is India, home to the world’s second largest population.

In 2018, India waved off 14.9 million outbound travelers, of which nearly half, or 49.3 percent, visited destinations in Asia Pacific. Their most favored Asia Pacific destinations were Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Pattaya and Bali. With its growing middle class, and population of 1.3 billion people, India’s potential to shake up future APDI rankings cannot be overlooked.

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“While mainland China serves as a focal point for Asia Pacific’s top destinations, there are also bright spots in South Korea, Japan and India. As travelers from these markets continue to increase by remarkable percentages year over year, it is imperative that we bring together resources from both the public and private sectors to help tourism partners better understand commerce patterns and deliver attractive experiences for eager travelers from across the region,” said Naylor, The APDI is a regional subset of Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index (GDCI).