International tourism

International tourism: the most popular countries

In 2020, 2.40 billion international tourists traveled to other countries worldwide. The U.S. also enjoyed a handsome 45.04 million foreign visitors, resulting in around $84.21 billion in revenue and third place in the global rankings.

The top place was taken by France with 117.11 million tourists.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 had a significant impact on the industry, which has been growing inexorably for decades. Travel restrictions caused massive declines.
The analysis presented here is based on 2020 data from the World Tourism Organization and lists the most popular 40 countries. Both the number of tourists and the revenue apply to international travel, i.e., they do not include domestic travelers. A tourist in this context is any guest who spent at least one night in the country.


Drastic declines due to COVID-19

Massive travel restrictions were imposed in nearly every country in 2020 and 2021, causing high revenue losses and significantly lower tourist numbers internationally. In the U.S. alone, the number of foreign visitors dropped by over 70 percent compared to 2019. A similarly drastic picture is emerging in almost all countries. In some cases, there were declines to below 5 percent.

Not all data is available yet, as only 129 countries have reported revenue and visitor numbers for 2020 through their national tourism authorities. This page is therefore based only on the data published to date.

The most popular travel countries

Traveling by planeIt is striking that tourism is very limited in large parts of Africa and even in South America, which are so culturally interesting. On the other hand, many European countries are visited quite often by foreigners, which is mainly due to their geographical proximity to other countries. The lower the travel costs, the more attractive the destinations become, especially for surrounding industrialized nations.

A closer look at the figures also reveals that the USA (ranked third), in view of its size, was only able to attract a comparatively moderate number of tourists, but had considerable revenues. An amount of $1,870 was recorded per traveler here. This is a profit that was higher only in 24 countries. Australia came in at $14,351 per guest.

Read also the list of the safest travel countries in the world

Rank CountryTourists
(in million)
(in billion $)
per tourist
of GDP
1France117.135.96 $307 $1.2 %
2Mexico51.111.45 $224 $0.9 %
3United States45.084.21 $1,870 $0.4 %
4Italy38.420.46 $533 $1.0 %
5Hungary31.64.22 $133 $2.3 %
6Croatia21.65.63 $261 $8.2 %
7Turkey16.013.77 $862 $1.7 %
8Austria15.115.36 $1,018 $3.2 %
9Germany12.458.37 $4,689 $1.4 %
10Virgin Islands8.60.69 $80 $16.3 %
11United Arab Emirates8.124.62 $3,045 $5.9 %
12Greece7.46.19 $836 $2.9 %
13Netherlands7.310.93 $1,504 $1.1 %
14Russia6.44.96 $780 $0.3 %
15Macao5.99.44 $1,601 $31.3 %
16Romania5.01.61 $321 $0.6 %
17Bulgaria5.01.79 $360 $2.1 %
18Malaysia4.33.39 $781 $0.9 %
19Portugal4.210.52 $2,500 $4.1 %
20Japan4.111.40 $2,769 $0.2 %
21Indonesia4.13.53 $872 $0.3 %
22South Africa3.92.72 $699 $0.6 %
23Puerto Rico3.92.92 $752 $2.7 %
24Vietnam3.83.23 $842 $0.9 %
25Belarus3.60.54 $151 $0.8 %
26Hong Kong3.632.70 $9,161 $8.9 %
27Ukraine3.40.69 $203 $0.3 %
28Morocco2.84.51 $1,611 $3.2 %
29Albania2.71.24 $468 $6.8 %
30Belgium2.67.45 $2,882 $1.3 %
31South Korea2.511.78 $4,675 $0.7 %
32Australia1.826.23 $14,351 $1.7 %
33Philippines1.52.77 $1,867 $0.7 %
34Norway1.42.20 $1,572 $0.5 %
35Qatar0.614.32 $24,601 $8.0 %
36Luxembourg0.54.45 $8,484 $5.2 %
37Ethiopia0.52.28 $4,405 $2.1 %
38Serbia0.41.42 $3,188 $2.3 %
39Bermuda0.10.09 $1,829 $1.3 %
40Moldova0.00.35 $12,207 $2.6 %

Germany is the world travel champion

International tourismWith a staggering 99,533,000 trips abroad in 2018, Germany was in first place. Each vacationer spent an average of $1,017. The USA follows in a remarkable second place with an impressive 60,549,898 trips. Each US American spent an average of 807 USD. Considering that China and the U.S. have a significantly larger population, some European countries like Germany are very well in the running. Incidentally, similar to Europeans, most Americans stay on their own continent during their vacation. The top destinations are within the vast and both scenically and climatically varied USA. Only then come destinations in Mexico and Canada.

Internationally, the proportion of Asian guests has been increasing noticeably for several years. Above all, Chinese, South Koreans and Taiwanese can be seen in more and more countries, and tend to visit significantly more countries during a vacation than is usual for tourists from elsewhere. Since the vacation is not longer in most cases, the time spent at individual vacation spots is shorter. At the same time, frequent changes of location also increase the average cost per person.

Booming tourism and slump in 2020

Development of global tourism Between 1995 and 2019, international tourism trended almost steadily upward. In these 24 years alone, visitor numbers rose by more than 130 percent. Only in the years after September 11, 2001, and at the time of the economic crisis in 2008 were there notable slumps. The most massive and unprecedented global drop to date began in the spring of 2020, when the first travel restrictions and bans were imposed due to the Corona pandemic. The graph shows the worldwide trend of visitor numbers in millions of tourists.

A look at the costs

By their very nature, the revenues and expenditures per tourist can only reflect what is statistically ascertainable. If a vacationer travels across Europe in a motor home and always pays cash in euros, these expenses can’t really be measured.

Such a traveler is not registered anywhere and the expenses can only be attributed to a country of origin if credit card payments or cash withdrawals permit.

Travel expenses also include transfer prices, such as for flights. However, this only applies to flights whose airlines are also based in the destination country. Countries with many of their own airlines and good international connections therefore generate higher revenues than smaller countries. The fact that Bulgaria, for example, only earns $360 per traveler is also due to the fact that the country, with only one airline of its own, does not generate significant passenger numbers. If a foreigner lands in Sofia with any non-Bulgarian airline, the airfare does not count as tourist income. If instead a traveler lands with Air France in France, Thai Air in Thailand or American Airlines in the USA, the flight ticket counts. Additionally in many European countries, revenues are lower simply because travel is often by car or train.

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