There are many ways to judge a city’s success as a tourist destination beyond the number of visitors it gets.
There’s infrastructure, sustainability and economics; how it copes with the challenges of attracting and accommodating travelers while maintaining quality of life for residents; and then there’s the efficacy of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
UK-based market research company Euromonitor used to be known for its annual Top 100 City Destinations list, which – until Covid upended everything in 2020 – ranked leading destinations by number of international arrivals.
That’s been replaced by its new Top 100 City Destination Index, which compares the attractiveness of 100 cities worldwide using six performance pillars, with the latest report based on data gathered in 2021.
Back in 2019, the top of the list was dominated by Asian destinations – with Hong Kong and Bangkok leading the charge – but in 2021 Europe is now represented by eight cities in the top 10.
Like the pre-pandemic list, the 2021 index is a snapshot in time. Last year, cities found their feet again in the wake of the global crisis, with some opening to the world faster than others. Next year’s list will no doubt be different again, in the fast-moving landscape of Covid recovery.
Here, then, are the early tourism heroes of the pandemic era.
Paris leads the world
Paris has been named the world’s most attractive city destination for 2021. Globally, it ranked highest in the “tourism performance” pillar and second-highest for “tourism policy and infrastructure.”
It benefited from the return of American and Asian tourists, Euromonitor says, although it had yet to get the boost from UK visitors – formerly a big market. That’s changed now, with the UK being added to France’s “green list” on March 31, 2022.
It ranked low for health and safety, however, which the report says was “despite increased efforts to boost vaccination rates in a vaccine-hesitant population.”
France has been one of the hardest-hit European countries in terms of Covid, and as of the start of this month has had close to 27 million cases in total.
Dubai – which placed No.1 on the 2020 index – ranks second on Euromonitor’s 2021 list and is the only city in an emerging market to make the top 10.
The UAE favorite got a head start by reopening to international tourists in July 2020 and last year it got a boost from the delayed Expo2020, which kicked off in October 2021.
Dubai ranked fourth-highest globally in the “health and safety” performance pillar, thanks to the stringent Covid protocol introduced by the Dubai government.
As of April 2022, more than 98% of Dubai’s population is vaccinated and mask-wearing remains mandatory in indoor public spaces.
‘Liveable and inclusive’
Amsterdam, a small city with an historically large tourist population – so much so that it became the poster child for overtourism – ranks third for 2021.
The Dutch capital is now tackling overtourism with technology: Euromonitor praises its crowd monitoring project Public Eye, which uses AI technology to help navigate large flows of people and reduce congestion.
The report also notes that Amsterdam, alongside Barcelona and Oslo, has “taken measures to reduce car parking spaces,” as well as introducing “extensive bicycle infrastructure to revolutionize their transportation networks and create more liveable and inclusive place.”
Population growth, improved unemployment rates and increase in disposable income meant that it performed well in terms of economic and business performance, says Euromonitor, taking sixth place in that performance pillar globally.
Madrid is fourth on the ranking overall and No.1 worldwide in the “sustainability” performance pillar. It also was third worldwide for “tourism policy and attractiveness.”
Thanks to Spain easing entry requirements for several markets, Barcelona also increased in rank by six places to 10th place during 2021.
New York was the highest-ranking US city, at No. 7 overall. Its success was driven by domestic tourism, while Orlando (No. 22) and Las Vegas (No. 28) also improved their rankings.
Singapore ranked highest globally in the “economic and business performance” pillar, although the city-state only made it to No. 24 on the index overall.
Asian cities stood out in this pillar, with Taipei and Hong Kong also leading the way in 2021 in terms of economic recovery, and Macau jumping 18 places to seventh worldwide.
Euromonitor also pointed to the impact of Singapore’s high vaccination levels and “living with Covid” policy, in contrast to other Asian-Pacific destinations “Zero Covid” approach.
Dublin ranked highest for tourism policy and attractiveness, and is 16th on the index overall.
Euromonitor attributes this to the Irish capital, like France, being open to US travelers from mid-2021, unlike their UK neighbors. London fell three places in the overall rankings in 2021, down to No. 8.
London won out on tourism infrastructure, though. The report points to the capital’s comprehensive public transport system, six commercial airports and notes that “it has a strong standing across culture and recreation, as well as educational offerings.”
Euromonitor’s Top 20 City Destinations Index 2021
7. New York
14. Los Angeles
18. Frankfurt am Maim