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London has been crowned the world’s most popular travel destination, according to the annual MasterCardGlobal Destinations Cities Index released today. The research, which provides a ranking of the 132 most visited cities around the world, said that London will welcome 18.82million international overnight visitors who will spend a total of £13.3billion ($20.23billion) in 2015.

The index puts London in pole position for the fifth time in seven years, beating Thai capital Bangkok into second place, and French rival Paris into third. Dubai is ranked fourth, followed by Istanbul, whose rapid rise in visitors knocks New York out of the top five this year.

More than just a travel tracker, the index delivers deeper understanding of how people move around the world and speaks to the importance and prominence of the world’s cities as homes, destinations and engines of growth.

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“MasterCard understands the importance of cities around the world both for travellers and those who live there,” said Ann Cairns, president of International Markets, MasterCard. “This year’s study helps us understand just how interconnected the world’s cities are and the significant role they play in connecting and empowering greater numbers of people than ever before.”

The world’s top 10 cities, ranked by overnight visitor numbers are:

  1. London – 18.82million
  2. Bangkok – 18.24 million
  3. Paris – 16.06 million visitors
  4. Dubai – 14.26 million visitors
  5. Istanbul – 12.56 million visitors
  1. New York – 12.27 million visitors
  2. Singapore – 11.88 million visitors
  3. Kuala Lumpur – 11.12 million visitors
  4. Seoul – 10.35 million visitors
  5. Hong Kong – 8.66 million visitors

In 2015, international travellers will make 382.9million visits by air to the world’s top 132 cities, collectively spending £236billion ($360billion).

The report predicts a 6% rise in international overnight visitors to London in 2015 and a 2.3% increase in spending, compared to last year. This underlines London’s dominance as a global hub for international business and tourism and a gateway to the rest of the country, which is clearly demonstrated by the hosting of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Istanbul enjoyed the largest rise in visitor numbers among the top 20 cities – up 11.4% since last year to 12.56million.

Increased airport capacity is vital for stimulating such growth that can boost cities’ local economies, jobs and business opportunities, the report says.

By forecasting the number of international overnight travelers, the Global Destination Cities Index shows businesses and governments where – from transit and infrastructure to cultural experiences – investment is needed for continued growth, innovation and sustainability.

Destination Cities: Spotting the Trends

Across the globe, a few key trends stand out, including:

  • Asia/Pacific – The region is home to three of the top four fastest-growing destination cities between 2009 and 2015 – Colombo, Chengdu and Osaka.
  • Europe – Istanbul is the most diversified destination, with 50 percent of its international overnight visitors coming from 33 feeder cites.
  • Latin America – Lima is both the top destination and the fastest growing city in the region, featuring almost 50 percent more international overnight visitors than second-ranked Mexico City.
  • Middle East and Africa – Dubai continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the global top ten while Abu Dhabi is the third fastest growing destination city overall between 2009 and 2015. 
  • North America – Houston is the fastest growing in North America since 2009 and is the only destination city in North America with double-digit growth.