You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Wise words from a Nobel Laureate, no less. But Bob Dylan’s assertion from Subterranean Homesick Blues did not take into account the interesting times we live in, so a steer from Euromonitor is quite welcome. Its annual global trends report, produced for WTM London, ranks the world’s top 100 cities for visitor arrivals and monitors the latest developments on the ground so we might anticipate what will appear on our borders next.
Asian cities, unsurprisingly, are among the most dynamic. Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Macao and Shenzhen are the biggest for visitor arrivals, with Japan apparently a victim of its own success. Strong interest from China has pushed up hotel rates, triggering a slowdown for Tokyo.
The local focus is on becoming “smart cities” – as defined by putting technology at the heart of daily life – weaving tech into public transport, retail and communications. Examples include Seoul’s commitment to providing broadband to every household; also the cashless revolution that continues across the continent. Following Hong Kong’s Octopus smart payment card – one of the first city cards to combine payments for public transport, restaurants, retail and even vending machines – Asian cities are driving towards a cashless future, especially South Korea and China.
“Mobile first” is a current obsession in commerce worldwide, but China is veering towards “mobile only”. Chinese consumers account for 1.1 billion mobile internet subscriptions – more than two and half times those in the US, the next largest market.
In Europe, concerns over terrorism loom large: of the five top cities – London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul and Prague – at least three have weathered serious attacks in the past two years.
Brexit has shaped travel performance in 2017, with UK outbound departures stalling, while inbound arrivals grew.
Whether Brexit is hard or soft, Euromonitor’s forecast assumes a free trade agreement will be reached and flights will continue as per the Open Skies Agreement. However, the ideological barrier of Brexit is real and threatens to undermine London’s dominant position as a financial hub and start-up incubator. Competing cities vying for its crown include Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Stockholm, Dublin and Amsterdam.
While the decision on London’s airport expansion drags on, rail is touted as the future of point-to-point travel, whether by existing projects such as Crossrail, connecting London from east to west, or fantastical schemes such as the Hyperloop. The brainchild of PayPal and Tesla founder Elon Musk, it promises a London-Edinburgh journey time of 50 minutes.
Uncertainty reigns in the US with Trump in power, and while building a wall on the Mexican border has stalled, tighter airport security has not. Biometric scanners are quickly appearing at more airports; whether they’re another Big Brother tactic or simply a means to improve efficiency and reduce waiting times remains to be seen.
Technology still rules in the US, with voice recognition proliferating throughout retail and in the home. Even closer to the bleeding edge, emotional recognition is becoming a reality. MIT offshoot Affectiva offers emotion tracking as a service through its software, using sensors or a webcam. The company can identify seven emotions and over 20 facial expressions so far.
Apple’s purchase of start-up Emotient is a significant step in the same direction, and Expedia is just one travel company trialling the tech in-house.
For US visitor arrivals, New York still dwarfs the competition, outstripping Las Vegas nearly two to one.
In the Middle East and Africa, Dubai continues to drive innovation and is on target to receive 20 million visitors by 2020. The emirate also aims to make 25% of all transportation driverless by 2030 – ambitious but also possible.
And while developed nations seek to close borders, Africa wants to open them. Research by the African Development Bank found it can be harder for an African citizen to enter another African country than it is for an American. To this end, the African passport was launched last year, allowing visa-free travel to all 53 member states.
However, passports can only go so far: direct air connections between African cities are scarce and many citizens have to travel via Europe to reach another country on the continent. The travel industry has both an opportunity and a responsibility to develop routes here, to contribute to a safer and more prosperous future.
WTM London Top 100 City Destinations Ranking report, by Euromonitor International, takes place 2.55-3.45pm Tuesday 7 in the WTM Inspire Theatre (EU490)