2018's top travel destinations pinpoint this year's hot spots

27 January 2019 - 00:00 By Oliver Smith

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.
Last year looks certain to be its biggest yet, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) having forecast 46 million visitors, an increase of 22.4%.
The exact 2018 total won't be known until early this year - but it should be enough to see Turkey leapfrog the UK and Mexico to become the world's sixth most-visited country.
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 in 2017, and are expected to increase again to around 8.3 million for 2018 (up 16.9%).
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 (others, such as the US, Ukraine and Saudi Arabia, appear less prompt when it comes to border bureaucracy).
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%, 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 as tightly controlled.
Ecuador's neighbour, Colombia, is also experiencing a tourism boom (up 32.8% from 4 million visitors to 5.3 million), something many have put down to the popularity of the Netflix series Narcos.
Its city of Medellin has transformed itself from murder capital to hipster holiday destination. "Medellin feels newborn," writes Stanley Stewart. "It helps that the setting is gorgeous. The city lies in a long valley between two Andean mountain ridges. The capital of Antioquia province, a fertile region famous for its coffee plantations and 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. In 1990 just 250,000 foreigners visited. That grew to 3.5 million in 2005, 5 million in 2010 and 7.9 million in 2015. In 2017, 12.9 million went to Vietnam; for 2019 it will be around 15.8 million (up 22.4%).
After Turkey, Europe's fastest-growing destination is Albania (up 19.8% to 5.5 million). Perhaps sunseekers were inspired by a newspaper report last year that described it as Eastern Europe's answer to the Amalfi Coast.
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% 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 too, including the UK. The first six months of 2018 saw a 6.8% fall in arrivals. If that trend continued for the whole year, arrivals will have dropped 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 Papua New Guinea (-26.5%, to June). Anguilla was hit by Hurricane Irma, so its 49% fall in visitors (up to July) is unsurprising. So too is St Maarten's 74.8% decline (to June). Political unrest hit Nicaragua last year, contributing to a 26.7% fall in visitors (to September). - The Daily Telegraph

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