American destination cities lagging behind Asian rivals

Hong Kong

Following the recent release of Mastercard’s 2018 Global Destination Cities Index, it’s always interesting to take a look at some of the movers and shakers amongst the most popular travel locations.

This year, there are key indications that in the east, Asia continues to boom when it comes to attracting tourists, while North America appears to be lagging behind considerably.

Considering the healthy and buoyant local tourism in many US cities, despite their renown on the world stage, there are some which aren’t enjoying anywhere near the same levels of international tourism, that might be expected of them. Some are particularly eye-catching, as we take a glance.

New York, New York

Two US cities which don’t feature in the top twenty rankings of Mastercard’s index, perhaps surprisingly, are Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It was, of course, Los Angeles which first referred to itself as “The Entertainment Capital of the World” due to the presence of Hollywood, while also being considered the preeminent international hub for filmmaking, television, radio and music production, not to mention the wide variety of tourist attractions in and around the city.

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Yet, international visitor numbers in Los Angeles are a fraction of those enjoyed by New York, which has hosted more than twice the number of international visitors year on year for over a decade. Undoubtedly, this is partly due to the “Big Apple” being a major international travel hub, particularly from important feeder locations in Europe such as London and Paris, which ranked second and third respectively in the destination cities index, and above New York in sixth position.

No other city in the US comes close to New York in terms of annual international visitor numbers, whether it’s for business or pleasure. Along with being one of the best-connected cities in the world for air travel from every continent, say visiting everything is impossible in one trip, making the city highly popular for return visits with so many attractions and such a broad mixture of cultural influences.

Leaving Las Vegas

According to data published by in 2018, overall visitor numbers to Las Vegas dropped by over 700,000 in 2017, which included a further reduction of international visitors compared to 2015 and 2016, who surprisingly only account for around one-sixth of tourists staying overnight in the city. There are, however, two key factors possibly influencing these declines, with “Sin City” facing stronger than ever competition to the foundations upon which it was built.

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The digital age has inevitably made its mark on the declining appeal of Las Vegas, due to the seemingly unstoppable growth and ease of online gambling. Looking at online casino sites like Betway, it's evident that they can offer as big a range of games as land-based casinos, with variants of games like blackjack and baccarat proving their diversity. It’s a challenge Las Vegas has needed to confront head-on, with more emphasis on family entertainment and attractions, pushing away the adult-oriented image.

For over a decade, revenues and visitor numbers in Macau have, no pun intended, also outstripped those of Las Vegas. Linked to the Chinese mainland and just a short boat trip from Hong Kong, while also being within easier striking distance of other Asian cities which feature strongly in the index, Macau is now firmly considered the “Gambling Capital” of the world, which Forbes had already highlighted back in 2013.

Crazy Rich Asians

Much has changed in terms of affluence in the East over the last few decades. While the 2018 movie Crazy Rich Asians is a comedic look at the elite in Singapore, the city itself has enjoyed booming growth as one of the most popular international travel destinations. There were just shy of 14 million overnight visitors in 2018 and those numbers are expected to continue growing. Indeed, the story is pretty much the same in a continent where people can now travel with much greater ease than ever before.

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Based on the numbers in Mastercard’s index, half of the twenty most visited cities in the world are in Asia, which included four of the top ten with Bangkok in Thailand topping the list with just over 20 million visitors in 2018. Across the continent, there are more airlines than ever before, while visitors from Europe, The Americas, Oceania and the Middle East continue to increase, as prices become more economical for long-haul flights or connection packages.

Destinations across the continental United States would clearly benefit from a healthier chunk of the Asian market, as formerly prominent cities throughout the country seemingly appear to have lost some of their lustre in attracting international tourists. International visitor numbers and valuable tourism dollars have been declining over the last few years, indicating the North American travel market will need to take a careful look at how they can bring the visitors back.