When assessing the many benefits of travel, it’s easy to forget how important it is to the economy. In fact, tourism is one of the world’s largest economic sectors, supporting nearly 1 in 10 jobs on the planet.
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), in 72 major cities around the world, tourism generates an astounding $625 billion.
Here, based on findings from a recent WTTC report, are the 15 cities whose tourism industries contribute the most to the GDP.
How many have you been to?
15. Macau — $14.3 billion
If you’re into trying out your luck on occasion, you need to check out Macau. This city — billed as the “gambling capital of the world” — puts Las Vegas to shame.
Thanks in large part to its expansive casino-resort scene, the territory’s economy hinges on tourism. A full third of Macau’s GDP comes from tourism, and almost a third of all workers in the city are employed in the tourism industry.
The city relies heavily on wooing international visitors in particular, with 97 percent of Macau’s tourism dollars coming from foreign tourists. Most of these tourists come from China and Hong Kong, which are very close. But the region will welcome anyone as long as they’ve got some money to spend.
What to do in Macau
Macau has a reputation as one of the gambling capitals of the world, so the city is naturally dominated by the area’s many casinos. Try staying at the Venetian Macau casino resort — modeled after the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas — for a stay that reflects the city’s modern feel.
There’s more to the city than its gaming centers, however. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll have to check out the Macau Tower, which boasts a Skywalk and even a bungee-jumping platform. If your nerves have recovered, check out the nearby Taipa Village for a taste of what the city was like in the colonial era, when it was a part of Portuguese territory. Make sure to grab a bite of Lord Stow’s famous Portugese egg tarts while in the neighborhood.
Finally, to wrap up the evening, check out the House of Dancing Water, a Cirque du Soleil-esque show featuring acrobatics and dancing water fountains.
14. Miami — $14.4 billion
There’s one big reason why Miami’s on this list: cruises. This port city is the cruise capital of the world, thanks primarily to Americans’ penchant for traversing the tropical seas on giant ships. The city is also located near Fort Lauderdale, another popular cruise port.
Add in a thriving convention and conference industry, and it’s easy to see why Miami is such a tourism hot spot.
What to do in Miami
A great place to stay is at the award-winning Acqualina Resort & Spa, which is situated right on the beach. The resort itself is quite secluded from the bustling city, but if you feel the need to escape further, Everglades National Park is just a short drive away.
If you don’t spy any alligators while at the park, head over to the Miami Zoo, which is home to over 3,000 animals (including alligators) and is spread out across 750 acres. To cap off your day, make sure to visit the streets of Little Havana and eat at the Versailles restaurant, which boasts decor modeled after the French palace and serves just about any Cuban food your heart could desire. (The city has one of the largest Cuban populations in the world outside of Cuba.)
And of course, the city is home to some of the world's most dazzling white-sand beaches.
13. Hong Kong — $15.2 billion
Thanks to its unique geography, extensive trade network and recent British colonial rule, this is one of the most distinctive places in the world. It’s Chinese, but designated as a Special Administrative Region with its own semi-autonomous government. It’s one of only two SARs, along with Macau (also found on this list). Its in-between status allows it to thrive as an interesting multicultural melange to this day.
The destination is such an attractive cornucopia, in fact, that it sees more international visitors who spend more money than in any other place on Earth. In 2017, 27.9 million people visited Hong Kong, and spent a whopping $39.2 billion. That’s $1,405 per person.
What to do in Hong Kong
The best way to experience Hong Kong right from the get-go is by heading to Victoria Peak, its highest point. This peak provides great views of the entire city and offers many options for not only hiking, but also dining and shopping, thanks to The Peak mall that’s situated on top of the summit.
Once you get an idea of the layout of the city, it’s time to head down. Make sure to visit Tim Ho Wan, a Michelin-star-awarded restaurant serving authentic dim sum. If you need a quiet break from Hong Kong’s legendary hustle-and-bustle, check out the Man Mo Temple, a place where locals still worship the god of literature and the god of war in an incense-y haze.
12. London — $16.4 billion
Given that London is one of the world’s most influential cities, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Since the number of UK residents is also relatively small in the grand scheme of things, it’s also not shocking to learn that most of London’s tourism economy — 86 percent — comes from international visitors.
Globe-trotters travel to London for its vibrant nightlife, storied ancient history (the city was founded by Romans about 2,000 ago), cultural attractions, English pub fare and so much more. As with all the best cities on Earth, there’s something here for everyone.
Just make sure to save up in advance — this is also one of the most expensive cities in the world.
What to do in London
It’ll cost you a pretty penny, but if you can spare it, try to stay at The Dorchester hotel in London. Followers of the royal family will especially appreciate this historic hotel, as it famously hosted Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on the night of his bachelor party before his marriage to Queen Elizabeth II (who was then still just a mere princess).
From there, you can visit any number of historical attractions. The notorious Tower of London now offers fun day tours. Westminster has a bevy of tourist attractions, including prime spots to snap a selfie with Big Ben in the background. Another great spot for a selfie is at King’s Cross Station’s Platform 9 ¾ from the famous Harry Potter series, which actually exists. For a (real) authentic British experience, try the afternoon tea in the Thames Foyer restaurant at the Savoy Hotel.
11. Guangzhou — $16.8 billion
Guangzhou, just north of Shenzhen, contains some of China’s oldest sights, including temples, tombs and parks.
It also has a rich culinary history; in fact, it is the source for most of what Americans know as Chinese food today. Maybe you’ve heard of “Cantonese” cuisine? That comes directly from this city, whose alias is Canton.
Most visitors who come to Guangzhou (a whopping 90 percent) are domestic travelers, and the number of Chinese visitors is only expected to climb in the coming years. Guangzhou is currently one of the fastest-growing tourism markets in the world, projected to grow by 8 percent over the next decade.
What to do in Guangzhou
Given that Guangzhou is the birthplace of the Cantonese cooking style, you really can’t visit this city without taking a food tour. There are dozens of options to choose from, including some that combine the tour with bike rentals for an even more adventurous experience. You can also enjoy a great view of the city from the Canton Tower, a giant rainbow-lit structure that’s visible throughout the area.
Get a sense of the roots of this ancient city by visiting the Museum of the Western Han Dynasty Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, a recently rediscovered tomb for a 2,000-year-old Chinese king.
A great place to stay is the Chimelong Hotel, a luxury ecological-themed hotel that’s conveniently situated near several other co-branded theme parks. One of these parks, the Chimelong Safari Park, also houses its own conservation breeding centers, including a panda exhibit.
10. Shenzhen — $19 billion
As far as tourism cities go, Shenzhen’s a bit of an oddity. You won’t find a storied history here; the city got its start as a literal end-of-the-line train station just 40 years ago — in 1979.
After it was designated as the first Special Economic Zone by the Chinese government, the city quickly took off, and today it is one of the largest manufacturing bases in the world.
Along with this business prosperity came a thriving tourism market contingent largely on a wide range of theme parks. About two-thirds of visitors to Shenzhen are domestic travelers, while one-third are from other countries.
Shenzhen’s close proximity to Hong Kong (they’re literally neighbors) has only helped its popularity, as people seek to cross two cities off their lists.
What to do in Shenzhen
Shenzhen is a modern city, and one of the best places to get a feel for this is the OCT Loft district. This sprawling artistic community is full of hidden restaurants, galleries, hotels and eclectic stores to explore. If the city gets to be too much, you can hide away along the mountain hiking trails of nearby Nanshan Park. This high retreat provides great views of the city, with lots of tree-lined nooks to find refuge in.
When you're ready to go back, check out the Window of the World. This theme park offers over a hundred small-scale replicas of famous locations around the world — everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Taj Mahal — in one sprawling 118-acre setting.
9. Las Vegas — $19.5 billion
What proper American hasn’t heard of Sin City?
A full 87 percent of tourism dollars spent in Las Vegas come from Americans themselves, and one out of every five workers in Las Vegas is employed in the tourism industry. Whether you’re into gambling, shopping, gluttony or something more nefarious, Las Vegas probably offers it. Plus, the city is an enormously popular spot for conferences and conventions.
Still, despite making a name for itself for catering to tourists, the city only derives about 17 percent of its total GDP from the tourism industry.
What to do in Las Vegas
There’s no shortage of things to do in Las Vegas. Going to a show is a must, and a great place to do it is at The Colosseum, which features Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Reba McEntire and Brooks & Dunn as residents, in addition to a never-ending lineup of guests. If you’ve ever wanted to see the Blue Man Group or a Cirque du Soleil show, Las Vegas is the place to do it.
Highlights of the area’s many restaurants include Mon Ami Gabi, a French-themed restaurant with awe-inspiring views of the Bellagio’s water fountain shows, and Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. The area is also home to many famous hotel-casinos, including the Bellagio Hotel, Caesar’s Palace and the Venetian Hotel (which you previewed earlier in Macau).
8. Mexico City — $19.7 billion
Mexico City is a popular travel destination for Mexicans. In fact, just 11 percent of the tourism dollars spent in Mexico City come from international visitors. Still, the city boasts a lot for both domestic and foreign visitors.
It’s the oldest capital city in the Americas, having been founded as far back as 1325 by the Aztecs. Back then, it was known by another name — Tenochtitlan. If you’re a history nerd, this probably rings a few bells, because it was also the capital of the Aztec empire, right up until it was levelled by the Spanish conquistadors in 1521 in their quest for an expanding empire.
Today, the city’s been rebuilt and is much more peaceful. It’s an epicenter for Mexican economics and culture, and even has the largest metropolitan concentration of museums in the world. Keep an eye out as you zoom around the city, as many murals painted by Diego Rivera appear on the sides of buildings.
What to do in Mexico City
Mexico City is an ancient place, and no visit to the city is complete without honoring these roots at the Museo Nacional de Antropología. It’s the biggest and most popular museum in the entire country, after all. Once you get done here, head over to the iconic Plaza de la Constitucion around sunset to see a great photo op: Mexican soldiers marching out to bring down the flag for the night amidst the brightly-lit historic colonial buildings.
Must-visit eateries include El Moro, an 80-year old churro shop that makes fresh churros to order, or literally any taco or tamale stand you happen to pass. Once you’re ready to pass out from your food coma, a great place to stay is the Downtown Mexico hotel, a restored colonial-era palace that blends modern-day touches with historical elegance.
7. Bangkok — $21.3 billion
No tour of Asia is complete without a visit to Bangkok. The city received more visitors than any other city in the world in 2017, aside from Hong Kong. Nearly 23 million international visitors came to the city, spending an average of around $800 per person.
It’s easy to see why Bangkok is so popular. Eight-hundred dollars per person isn’t chump change, but relative to the cost of other travel, it's not a ton either. In fact, Thailand is relatively cheap on the global scale, attracting many budget-minded tourists. There are even entire neighborhoods in Bangkok catering to the thrifty backpacking traveler.
Couple that with the country’s legendary landscapes, ancient temples and excellent cuisine, and you’ve got a tourism paradise.
What to do in Bangkok
Thailand is famous for its temples, and one of the best ones to visit is right in the heart of Bangkok — the Grand Palace. Make sure you buy your tickets at least 24 hours in advance, as there isn’t an option to head right to the entrance and buy tickets once you get there.
Foodies will also delight in all of Bangkok’s offerings. Because most Thai people eat out rather than cook all their own meals, there is no shortage of options for authentic street food — so eat away to your heart’s content!
For a truly unique experience, stay at the Bangkok Publishing Residence. It’s a B&B housed in what was Thailand’s most popular publishing house in the 1900s.
6. Tokyo — $21.7 billion
Even though Tokyo makes up the sixth-largest tourism economy in the world, tourism represents a mere 2.4 percent of the city’s total GDP, and employs a scant 1 percent of all workers in the city. Considering Tokyo is one of the largest financial centers in the world, it’s easy to see why travel is relatively insignificant when it comes to GDP.
That’s not to say that there’s not plenty to see here for curious tourists, however. Tokyo is a food-lover’s paradise, boasting more Michelin stars than any other city in the world.
What to do in Tokyo
If you’re heading to Japan to see its technological oddities, a great place to stay is the robot-run Henn na Hotel. You will be checked in by robotic dinosaurs, although real live humans are available if needed (they just tend to stay hidden in the background). From there you can catch dinner at the Shinjuku Robot Restaurant, featuring a show where warrior princesses battle 10-foot-tall transformer robots. CNN has called it “one of the wildest shows on Earth.”
If you’d prefer a bit more human interaction, you can get a Wagyu steak grilled up right in front of you at any one of the city’s numerous Teppanyaki steakhouses (check out food-porn videos of these restaurants on YouTube before you go — it’s addicting).
As far as attractions go, a must-see is the Sensoji Temple, the city’s oldest shrine. Another excellent pick is the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest seafood market in the world.
5. New York City — $24.8 billion
As you’re probably aware, the Big Apple is a financial, geopolitical, educational and cultural epicenter. Which explains why, even though New York boasts the fifth-largest tourist economy in the world, it’s small peanuts compared to the city’s overall economy: Tourist spending makes up just 3.5 percent of the entire GDP.
Though New York has global cache, it's equally appealing to those based in the U.S. In fact, tourist spending in the city is roughly split in half between international and domestic tourists.
What to do in New York City
The Park Lane Hotel is a great choice for a stay in New York City. It’s one of the most budget-friendly options in its neighborhood, but the real selling point is its views of Central Park. When you’re done sleeping in the morning, you can stroll around the park to wake up for an exciting day.
For a truly memorable meal, check out Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, one of the city’s three-star Michelin restaurants. This restaurant blends Japanese and French cuisine for a perfect representation of the city’s multicultural background. When you’re done, make sure to check out a show on Broadway to round out the evening.
4. Orlando — $24.8 billion
Walt Disney chose Orlando for his second theme park because he thought the city’s inland location would make it safer against coastal hurricanes. After Disney World debuted in the city in 1971, Orlando rocketed to international fame as a prime tourist destination.
Hundreds of other tourism-focused attractions have popped up in the wake of Disney World’s success, and today the city boasts the largest concentration of theme parks in the world. It’s also a well-known destination city for conferences, with groups and organizations hoping to piggyback family fun onto business trips.
No wonder 86 percent of the tourism dollars spent in Orlando come from American tourists, rather than international visitors.
What to do in Orlando
Orlando certainly doesn’t disappoint theme-park lovers. The city is home to more theme parks than anywhere else in the world. You can visit Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Legoland, Epcot, Busch Gardens and many more. If you get tired of all the rides, you can check out nearby Daytona Beach, Kennedy Space Center or Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
Although all the theme parks and resorts offer plenty of dining options, another good choice is A La Cart, featuring a steady lineup of food trucks serving everything from fresh Hawaiian poke to Swedish meatballs.
When you’re tired, Disney’s African safari-themed Animal Kingdom Lodge is a great option to stay at. If that’s not quite your style, try the Hard Rock Hotel, which is decorated with more than $1 million in music memorabilia.
3. Paris — $28 billion
Unlike the top two cities on this list, Paris caters primarily to international tourists. In fact, almost two-thirds of the tourism dollars in Paris come from visitors outside France — mainly from the U.S., U.K., Germany and China.
Paris boasts some of the most-visited tourist sites of anywhere in the world, and is home to a highly touted culinary scene (the only city with more Michelin stars is the sixth city on this list, Tokyo).
What to do in Paris
Paris is home to a laundry list of must-see attractions, so we hope you’ve set aside some time to visit. Of course everyone has to visit the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre, the most-visited art museum on Earth thanks in part to the "Mona Lisa." But there is an endless amount of lesser-known attractions here, including the Paris Catacombs, the Jardin des Plantes and the Montmartre neighborhood that used to be the stomping grounds of famous artists like Monet and van Gogh.
When in Paris you must check out Stohrer, the oldest pastry shop in the city. It was founded by the personal pastry chef to King Louis XV in 1730 and has been kicking out fresh croissants ever since. For more historic flair, stay at the aptly-named L’Hotel (it was Oscar Wilde’s last place of residence), which is also home to the Michelin-starred Le Restaurant and the hangout Le Bar.
2. Beijing — $32.5 billion
You might be familiar with Beijing as China’s capital city (and indeed, one of the oldest cities in the entire world) and thus as a powerhouse of political power. But where there’s history and power to be found, there’s also culture, and a thriving tourism industry.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 87 percent of visitors to Beijing are domestic, and not international. But no matter where you come from, there’s plenty to see here. The city is home to an incredible seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Beijing is also the jumping-off point for many Chinese travels, and is home to the second-busiest airport in the world (Beijing Capital International Airport). If you’re visiting China, there’s a good chance you’ll pass through Beijing, and we’d suggest staying a while to soak as much as you can from what this city has to offer.
What to do in Beijing
The Qianmen district is one of the best places to stay in Beijing if you want to be near where the action’s at. And there’s a lot of action to choose from: visit the historic Forbidden City (buy your tickets in advance since space is limited to “just” 80,000 people per day), stroll around Tiananmen Square, rest at the Temple of Heaven or head out for a day trip to the Great Wall of China.
You’ll have to be a fan of Chinese food to visit Beijing obviously, but if you want a bit more of a unique experience, try Country Kitchen (no relation to the American Country Kitchen chain). This open-air restaurant features authentic “lost” Chinese dishes from the northern regions that you won’t find on the menus of Chinese restaurants back home, or even in most Chinese restaurants.
Shanghai — $35 billion
It’s no surprise that China’s largest city, Shanghai, ended up on the top of the list. Not only is it one of Asia’s original tourist cities — it’s been supporting trade with other countries for nearly 200 years — but China has seen huge growth in its tourism economy in recent years, thanks to its thriving middle class.
While the city does see its fair share of international tourists, it’s actually far more common for Chinese people to vacation in the city. In fact, according to the WTTC, 88 percent of all tourism spending in Shanghai comes from domestic sources.
What to do in Shanghai
A proper trip to Shanghai starts with a walk around The Bund, the picturesque waterfront that sits between the city’s historic district and the modern skyline across the river.
Nanjing Road is also a great place for a selfie, with all of the congestion, lights and commotion that typifies urban Chinese life. When you’re done, head over to nearby Wujiang Road to fill up your stomach with some of the most popular street food in the city.
Finally, rest your weary head in the Yangtze Boutique Hotel, a centrally located historic hotel that’s been housing guests since 1934, right before the Communist revolution closed down the international port to outsiders. Thankfully, today it’s wide open and ready for you to visit.