Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Wondering where to travel this summer? According to a recent report by Mastercard Worldwide, the world is your oyster. And, what’s making us really excited is a certain Khaleeji country climbing the lists!

Overall, the total visitor numbers for the world’s top 20 destination cities in 2012 is estimated to be 184.9 million, according to the second annual Global Destination Cities Index. This represents an increase of 5.7% from last year. And visitors are expected to spend a lot more than in previous years – the report estimates they will spend $241 billion on their travels, up 10.6% from last year!

U.A.E. Takes the Lead

Burj Al Arab, Dubai

If you’re looking into visiting the U.A.E. on your next getaway, chances are you’re not the only one — things are looking really bright for Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Dubai ranks eighth in the world in terms of inbound international visitors in 2012. And it’s no surprise — with attractions like Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and Burj Al Arab, the world’s only “seven-star” hotel, Dubai is quickly topping the list of destination hotspots.

The city also outranks popular destinations such as New York City, Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing.

With 8.8 million international visitors expected in 2012, Dubai ranks one spot higher than its position in 2011. The index forecasts that most visitors will hail from Paris, Munich, Frankfurt, Kuwait City, and especially London, with 803,000 visitors expected from London in 2012. Interestingly, visitors from London are also the highest spenders in Dubai with an average of $1,495 spent per visit, compared to just below $900 by visitors from the other four top origin cities.

In other impressive news on the UAE, Abu Dhabi is now the fourth fastest growing destination city in the world, outranking emerging tourist attractions like Istanbul, Singapore, and Toronto. The city is expected to see a 17.9% spike in visitor numbers in 2012, a three-fold growth over New York City.

“The ease of doing business in the UAE as well as the country’s exciting offering of hotels, entertainment, shopping and sightseeing are some of the factors that are driving this influx of visitors,” says Raghu Malhotra, Division President, Middle East and North Africa at MasterCard Worldwide. “This is especially positive news for local businesses as it highlights strong opportunities for growth.”

Highlights by Region

The report especially highlights the Asia/Pacific region, as total visitor numbers for the top ten cities are predicted to grow by 9.5% and total spending to increase by a whopping 15.3%. Chinese tourist hub Bangkok comes in first in terms of amount spent per visitor and Tokyo, Japan in sixth place. The Japanese capital also shows the fastest predicted spend growth.

Middle East, Africa and Asia: Visitor numbers for the top ten cities are set to grow by 7.2%.  And although Abu Dhabi will see the biggest growth in terms of capita, South African city Durban comes in a close second. Bangkok is expected to have 12.2 million visitors, Singapore 11.8 million, and Istanbul 11.6 million.

NYC Skyline

Europe: It’s no surprise that London is crowned as the world’s top destination city for the second year in a row. The top ten European cities are predicted to see an overall 2.8% increase in visitor numbers and a 8.1% rise in projected total international spend, with 16.9 million visitors expected in 2012 for London alone. Paris comes in a close second with 16.0 million expected visitors. The growth rates of visitors from Munich, Frankfurt and Paris are remarkably high at 29.5%, 22.1% and 20.2% respectively.

North America: Nothing beats seeing the Big Apple! New York City is expected to be the most visited, with a rate 5.2% higher than last year. Visitor numbers in the region are expected to rise by 4.1% for the top ten cities, and average spend per visit will also go up by 1.6% to an impressive $2,442, claims the report. Toronto, the fastest growing city in North America’s top ten, will show an expected increase of 10.2% growth compared to last year. Dallas, Texas and Boston, Massachusetts will show fast growth in terms of visitor spend, both predicted to increase by 13.6%.

Latin America:Projected visitor numbers are up by 7.3% for the top ten destination cities. Quito, Ecuador and Bogotá, Colombia will be the fastest growing while Argentinean capital Buenos Aires tops the list in terms of money spent per tourist. Brazilian cultural hub Recife will be the fastest regional city, with an impressive expected growth rate of 37.6%.

All numbers and data were collected from the second annual Global Destination Cities Index, a report which ranks 132 cities in terms of the number of their total international visitor arrivals and amount spent per visitor. The index and accompanying reports are not based on MasterCard volumes or transactional data.

—   Kawther Albader

Top Image: Julie Quetier; Middle Image: FSG777; Bottom Image: davidlat; Featured Image: cnina

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