The World’s 10 Fastest Growing Tourist Destinations


If you were one of the 89 million people who visited France last year and thought the Louvre was more than a little crowded, you weren’t wrong. In 2018, the perennially popular destination was the most visited country in the world, according to the recently released United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) 2019 Tourism Highlights Report. With Spain coming in second with 83 million arrivals, and the United States in third with 80 million, the list of countries that welcomed the most international guests in 2018 hardly contains any surprises. 

To discover the places that only in-the-know travelers are visiting, AFAR dug into the data to find the countries that saw the largest percentage change in international arrival growth between 2017 and 2018. Some spots like Vietnam, Nepal, and Egypt topped the list of fastest-growing destinations once again. Others like Comoros, a small island nation in eastern Africa, truly took us by surprise. But the most shocking addition to this year’s list is the country that took the number one spot.

10. Vietnam: 19.9 percent

The Tran Quoc pagoda is the oldest temple in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Photo by Shutterstock

After seeing a nearly 30 percent increase in tourism between 2016 and 2017 thanks in part to visa exemptions for certain countries, Vietnam’s skyrocketing growth slowed down slightly last year. But considering only 5 million traveled to Vietnam in 2010 and nearly 15.5 million came in 2018, it’s safe to say that this Southeast Asian destination could rival Spain and France one day. 

U.S. travelers still need to apply for a visa to Vietnam, but a tour operator can help navigate that process. G Adventures offers several different ways to explore Vietnam, including age-appropriate trips for families, budget tours for twenty-somethings, and active itineraries for cycling enthusiasts.

9. Palestine: 20.5 percent

Jersualem’s Dome of the Rock is the site where it is believed the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven.
Photo by Shutterstock

In general, tourist arrivals in the Middle East were up nearly 5 percent in 2018 as many countries in the region show signs of stabilizing after periods of unrest earlier in the decade. With 606,000 visitors last year, Palestine shows indications of continued growth. To see the biblical landscapes in Palestine for yourself, Intrepid Travel is bringing back its Holy Land Highlights tour in 2020 for the second year in a row. Wild Frontiers also offers a nine-day walking tour in April and October 2020 that passes through Jericho, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem.

8. Turkey: 21.7 percent

 The streets of Istanbul’s Balat district are lined with colorful historic buildings.
Photo by Shutterstock

With 45,768,000 arrivals, Turkey was actually the sixth-most visited country in the entire world in 2018, coming in right after Italy and ranking ahead of Mexico and Germany. Given a 21.7 percent increase, it’s clear that the country is on the rebound after a string of terror attacks in Istanbul and Ankara in 2015 and 2016 kept travelers away. There were plenty of reasons to visit in 2018, including a brand-new airport in Istanbul and luxury hotel openings in Bodrum on the Mediterranean coast from the likes of Six Senses and Edition.

7. Nepal: 24.8 percent

Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal
Photo by Shutterstock

For the second year in a row, Nepal saw nearly 25 percent more travelers arrive than the year before with 1,173,000 arrivals in 2018. In some ways, this rapid growth has helped the country rebuild after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal in 2015. But after 11 people died on Mount Everest during a particularly crowded 2019 season, the number of permits Nepal issues to climb the mountain has been called into question.

To explore Nepal responsibly, travel with G Adventures on its classic Nepal Adventure trip, which includes an overnight homestay with the indigenous Tharu community in Royal Chitwan National Park and hiking treks in the Annapurna Range.

6. Comoros: 28.2 percent

 Beach villas on Grand Comore Island, one of the three main islands that make up the nation of Comoros.
Photo by Shutterstock

Never heard of Comoros until now? Same here. If you need help finding it on a map, the small east African island nation is due north of Madagascar and off the coast of Mozambique. Even though only 36,000 people visited Comoros in 2018, that translated into a 28.2 percent increase in arrivals from 2017, earning it a place on this list. Comoros doesn’t have luxury accommodations like in the Seychelles, but it has plenty of white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and volcanic landscapes to explore.

5. Uganda: 31.9 percent

 Mountain gorillas roam the rainforest in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Photo by Shutterstock

Uganda had 1,850,000 arrivals in 2018, up nearly 32 percent from 2017 thanks to increased interest in gorilla-tracking safaris and celebrity visits from the likes of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West. 

A note on Ebola: In 2019, the CDC confirmed that Uganda “detected and responded to multiple cases” of Ebola virus that had crossed the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The U.S. Embassy in Uganda issued a health alert after the first incident in June saying that the government of Uganda has the affected area under heightened surveillance with the World Health Organization. All airports and border posts are screening travelers arriving from affected areas in DRC.

However, luxury safari operators including Roar Africa and Journeys by Design both told AFAR that they have not canceled any trips to Uganda in 2019 because of Ebola. Considering the private nature of its itineraries, Journeys by Design confirmed that there is very low risk of travelers being in contact with the disease.

4. Egypt: 36.8 percent

 The Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt is best seen right before sunset when the light hits the hieroglyph-covered columns just right.
Photo by Shutterstock

If you want to visit Egypt before the masses return, go now. In 2018, it welcomed 11,346,000 visitors, up from 8.3 million in 2017. With the eagerly anticipated opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum in 2020, Egypt should soon see tourism numbers surpass its 2010 record when around 14 million visitors came the year before anti-government protests toppled the presidency of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Intrepid Travel’s eight-day Egypt Adventure covers Cairo, the Pyramids, and the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. There are also plenty of new ways to cruise the Nile. In September 2020, the 82-passenger Viking Osiris will join the smaller 52-passenger Viking Ra, which debuted in 2018, in order to meet demand.

3. Iran: 49.9 percent

 Isfahan’s Jameh Mosque is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest mosques in Iran.
Photo by Shutterstock

Thanks to a simpler visa process and a major slide in the value of the Iranian rial, travel to Iran has grown easier and more affordable for international visitors. The Middle Eastern nation welcomed 7,295,000 tourists in 2018—an increase of nearly 50 percent from the prior year.

Although the U.S. State Department advises U.S. citizens not to travel to Iran, it’s still possible to get an entry visa. GeoEx has been taking travelers to Iran since 1993—making it the longest-operating U.S. tour company in Iran. Its 20-day Treasures of Persia tour has departures in April and September 2020 and visits cities like Shiraz and Esfahan, as well as more than 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the St. Stepanos monastery near the border of Azerbaijan.

2. Ecuador: 51 percent

 Ecuador is known for the wildlife-filled Galapagos, but bird watchers will also love visiting the Maquipucuna Cloud Forest Reserve.
Photo by Shutterstock

In 2018, Ecuador welcomed 2,429,000 visitors. While a majority stayed on the mainland, visiting the capital city of Quito or exploring the cloud forests of the Andes, approximately 275,000 travelers visited the country’s famed Galápagos Islands in 2018—a 14 percent increase from 2017. To help curb the rapid growth to the archipelago’s fragile ecosystem, Ecuador’s government recently proposed doubling the $100 national park entrance fee to $200 for foreign visitors.

New airline routes are making it easier than ever to get to Ecuador. JetBlue’s direct Fort Lauderdale–Quito route launched back in 2016. But after adding a Fort Lauderale–Guayaquil direct route in early 2019, JetBlue will also introduce a New York (JFK)–Guayaquil flight in December, making it the airline’s longest route in its network.

1. Tajikistan: 190.1 percent 

Before heading into Tajikitan’s dramatic mountain ranges, it’s worth stopping the capital city of Dushanbe.
Photo by Shutterstock

After welcoming only 431,000 visitors in 2017, Tajikistan saw massive growth last year with 1,250,000 arrivals after the government declared 2018 the “Year of Tourism” and eased up on visa restrictions. Considering the growing popularity of other Central Asian countries (Georgia ranked fifth on this list last year and AFAR covered Uzbekistan in our November/December 2019 issue), it’s no surprise more travelers are curious to discover this mountainous nation. 

If you want to go, Wild Frontiers is launching a new Tajikistan itinerary in July 2020. The 16-day trip will take guests along the Pamir Highway through the mountain range bearing the same name, with stops to get to know locals at village homestays along the way. 

Tajikistan is a country in Central Asia surrounded by Afghanistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. It’s known for rugged mountains, popular for hiking and climbing. The Fann Mountains, near the national capital Dushanbe, have snow-capped peaks that rise over 5,000 meters. The range encompasses the Iskanderkulsky Nature Refuge, a notable bird habitat named for Iskanderkul, a turquoise lake formed by glaciers.
Khujand, sometimes spelled Khodjent and known as Leninabad in 1936–1991, is the second-largest city of Tajikistan and the capital of the northernmost province of Tajikistan, now called Sughd. Khujand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, dating back about 2,500 years. It is situated on the Syr Darya at the mouth of the Fergana Valley and was a major city along the ancient Silk Road, mainly inhabited by ethnic Tajiks. It is proximate to both the Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan borders.
The Pamir Mountains rise high above a lake in the world’s fastest growing country for tourism.

Thanks to Lyndsey Matthews and supplying this information and originally putting this on along with


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