Switzerland Still Tops the List of Leading Tourist Destinations, and 3 MENA Countries Make the Top 50 List

The top echelons of the global tourism industry are now only partly German-speaking: as a holiday destination, Austria has slipped two places compared with 2008 in the “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011”, and now ranks fourth. By contrast, Germany has made further progress amongst the leading trio, and is now positioned behind global tourism champion Switzerland in second spot. France is likewise one of the winners in this long-term study. While this Western European destination ranked only tenth in 2008, it has now risen to third spot in the international ranking.

The global tourism survey has been put together for the fourth time by the World Economic Forum, working jointly in a strategic partnership with the international strategy consultants Booz & Company. The resulting ranking of the 139 states surveyed was presented today, immediately ahead of ITB Berlin. The analysis focuses on the framework conditions for the respective travel industries in areas such as health and safety, infrastructure, price levels, the cultural offer, environmental protection and legislative regulation. Germany came out strongly in the evaluation of long-term and continuous investments in sustainable tourism concepts and environmental protection initiatives. Cultural and landscape-related resources in particular, such as the “Wattenmeer” (the Wadden Sea mudflats, which have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2009), are a key asset for Germany as a travel destination. France, a star performer in the fresh rankings, has put its faith since 2008 in a newly-formulated national tourism strategy aimed at attracting new visitor segments, for instance from the Middle East and Asia. To that end, investments have been made in modernising hotels, in revising hotel classifications and in international marketing activities. To cushion the consequences of the economic crisis, the French state is further supporting the travel industry via a drastic reduction in VAT for tourism services.

Generally, the overall average score on the framework conditions for tourism in the travel destinations studied remains largely stable compared with 2008. “For the established travel destinations, preserving the status quo is definitely not a sustainable strategy for the future in order to win out over new, aspirational travel regions from Eastern Europe, the Middle East or Asia. For these dynamic regions, we identified significantly above-average structural improvements during the study,” says Jürgen Ringbeck, Senior Partner and tourism expert with Booz & Company.

Asia as A Growth Market

Overall, the dynamic in the tourism sector is moving away from the established regions such as Europe and North America, and towards the East. In the Asia-Pacific Region, international tourist arrivals from 2000 to 2010 increased nearly twice as fast (85%) as the global average (39%). China (which UNWTO identified in 2010 as being the third-most visited country, measured by international tourist arrivals) is a key growth driver in this trend. The results of the latest survey, the “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011”, reflect this above-average dynamism: over the past four years, the People’s Republic of China has made up 23 places, and now ranks 39. The country benefits considerably from strategic investments in infrastructure and the tourism industry—not least for Expo 2010 in Shanghai and for the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.

However, rapid economic growth in the most populated country in the world, and of course the consequences of the boom in tourism, are also bringing ecological problems in their wake. “Growth, pure and simple, is often to be found at the forefront of structural policy. Environmental protection and soft tourism concepts generally still don’t get much of a look-in. When it comes to sustainability, many regions reveal a marked need to up their game,” says Ringbeck.

Gulf States Overtaking North African Tourism Strongholds

Three MENA countries are included in the top 50 rankings of leading tourism destinations―Bahrain (2011 ranking: 40), Qatar (2011 ranking: 42), and Tunisia (2011 ranking: 47). Nevertheless, the trends in the index clearly show that traditional North African destinations such as Tunisia and Egypt are falling back in the rankings, as Arab countries in the Gulf continue to drive deeper into the global Travel and Tourism stage with supporting investments in developing regulatory, business environment and infrastructure and particularly human, cultural and natural resources to overtake the North African countries.
For instance Egypt is currently ranked 75, but has already lost seven places over the past four years. By contrast, the Kingdom of Bahrain has made up eight places since 2008. And Oman has made up even more, moving up 15 places (2011 ranking: 61). The current political unrest in many North African and Arab countries may have a negative impact on the overall situation, at least in the short term. For example, a major tourism event scheduled for March in Bahrain, the Formula 1 Championship race, has been postponed. “But if the political situation stabilises, then the states concerned could rapidly recover lost ground and open-up their markets for further tourism investments, while focusing on improving the overall business environment, which would have a positive and lasting impact on tourism competitiveness,” says Nabih Maroun, Partner at Booz & Company.

European Winners and Losers

Notwithstanding all this, Europe is still heavily represented in the top 10 rankings. A total of seven European destinations hold places in this leading group. When it comes to the losers in the survey, amongst the European tourism destinations it is Greece and Portugal which stand out. The results for these popular holiday destinations reflect to a large extent the consequences of the economic and debt crisis, which hit both destinations particularly hard. In Greece, for example, the effects of general strikes on air traffic, and thus on the tourist trade, are apparent. Portugal is suffering above all due to a lack of funds for urgently-needed infrastructure investments, dropping three places compared with 2008 and now only ranking 18. Greece is now only ranked 29 in the current list, down from 22 in 2008. One real winner in this year’s survey is Montenegro. The Balkan state is even writing environmental protection into its constitution, and is relying on sustainable hotel development as it establishes its mountain regions as popular walking and skiing destinations. The deliberate decision not to embrace mass tourism, as for instance Spain elected to do in the 1980s, has allowed the destination to leap from a ranking of 59 in 2008 to 36 in the latest survey.