Ancient crossroads and modern metropolis İstanbul has been ranked the world’s fifth most popular tourist destination in 2012, registering strong growth over the 2011 season in terms of visitor count and tourist dollars spent, in a report this week by MasterCard.
The credit card firm’s “Global Destination Cities Index” reported that İstanbul had seen a 14.7 percent growth in tourism in the first six months of 2012 versus the same period of 2011 and predicted that 11.6 million tourists would visit the city this tourist season. Citing İstanbul’s rich history and culture as reasons for its rapidly growing popularity, the report ranked the city as the third most popular tourist destination overall in Europe, behind London and Paris, and fifth globally, trading sixth place with last year’s number five, Hong Kong.
While the MasterCard index registered a commanding lead for long-time world tourism capitals London and Paris, which attracted 16.9 million and 16 million tourists in 2012, respectively, it suggested that the preferences of tourists worldwide are diversifying to include dozens of cities in the developing world. While London expanded its tourism intake by only 1.1 percent this year and tourist-saturated Paris saw a decline in visitors by 0.6 percent over 2011, tourism grew in Rio de Janeiro by an astonishing 28.6 percent, while Middle Eastern cities Abu Dhabi, Tunis and Dubai saw 15-18 percent growth, and İstanbul expanded by 14.7 percent. The only heavily developed city to see a jump in tourism was Tokyo, where tourism grew by 21.5 percent over 2011.
Another key indicator of İstanbul tourism’s growing weight is the level of spending by visitors, which is expected to total $10.6 billion this year, the eighth highest level of tourism spending per city in 2012. It also registered the fifth largest level of tourism spending per city in Europe. That number, however, was roughly half of the spending seen in international shopping capitals London and New York, which topped the list at $21.1 and $19.4 billion, respectively. The report nevertheless stated that spending in Turkey was up “a sizzling 20.7 percent” over last year, and showed that spending in emerging tourism capitals has surged while more traditional destinations’ tourist income has grown more slowly.
The report also suggests that cities where tourism is surging are overwhelmingly located in Asian and Pacific nations, where growing middle classes have for the first time begun to vacation abroad. İstanbul has been the European counterpart to the rapid expansion in cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Tapei and has announced ambitions to boost its tourism clout further by hosting the Olympics in 2020. İstanbul has so far advanced to the final round of three bidders, which also includes prospective hosts Tokyo and Madrid. İstanbul officials will learn if the city, which has bid four times in the past to host the event, has been selected for 2020 when the International Olympic Committee chooses the winner in September of 2013.