1. UAE (Rank 4)
As a small collection of cities along the Persian Gulf, the UAE offers little in the way of natural diversity beyond its endless sand dunes and beaches. What it lacks in natural assets it makes up for in impressive engineering feats, and being home to the world’s largest man-made island, the Palm Island. Amid its impressive skyline is the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest man-made structure. With its world-class airport infrastructure and liberal visa system, travel is relatively easy. The government has carried out a successful branding campaign in recent years, and in 2014 tourism amounted to 4.1 percent of GDP.
2. Switzerland (Rank 5)
With no standing army, no official capital city and three linguistic groups, Switzerland is a unique country. The mountainous nation – home to the Swiss Alps – has impressive landscapes and views for tourists, kept pristine through stringent environmental laws. Geneva, one of the country’s main cities, is also a major centre for luxury shopping. Outside the eurozone, the Swiss Franc has a high exchange rate, making visiting expensive, and Geneva and Zurich rank among the most expensive cities in Europe. For those visiting from outside of the Schengen Area, obtaining a visa can often be a lengthy process.
3. South Africa (Rank 15)
It has been five years since South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup, and the country is still reaping the benefits, with the large stadiums built for it now available for various entertainment events. Outside of the cities, the country is home to an abundance of wildlife and a number of classified World Heritage sites, such as the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, where structures and buildings dating back to the 15th century still stand. The government places a high emphasis on environmental and cultural conservation. However, South Africa’s visa restrictions, due to a set of immigration reforms, are set to become more stringent.
4. Panama (Rank 33)
Aside from being the trade hub of Latin America, Panama also has a significant tourist industry, totalling six percent of its GDP. The country, with the Gulf of Panama on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other, has very attractive beaches. In contrast to much of the region, Panama has strong tourist infrastructure and a skyscraper dominated capital in Panama City. Its airport – the busiest in Central America – is a regional travel hub, which allows for easy access to the country. Panama is also one of the safest countries to visit in Central America, with relatively low levels of tourism crime.
5. Israel (Rank 51)
Home to holy sites of the world’s three major religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and the birthplace of two of them, Israel houses various sites of historical and cultural importance. However it also has more secular attractions, with a vibrant nightlife scene in the modern city of Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast, and wineries in the Golan Heights in the north and Negev Desert in the south. Although Israel has ploughed investment into improving its tourism infrastructure, navigation is sometimes not so easy. The cost of living – and therefore cost of visiting – is also rather high.
6. China (Rank 80)
Nearly 130 million people visited China in 2014. Cities such as Shanghai and Beijing offer visitors the experience of a lively modern megacity, replete with skyscrapers, luxury shopping and expensive bars and restaurants. For those wishing for a glimpse into China’s more traditional past, the country ranks third in the number of World Heritage natural sites and is home to world-famous cultural heritage sites such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Mogao Caves. The country’s government continues to invest in infrastructure, easing travel. However, within the coastal cities, air quality is often low.
7. Spain (Rank 100)
Since the 1970s, Spain has proven popular among Northern Europeans seeking sun for a few weeks a year. In recent times, however, the country’s tourism numbers have been boosted by other parts of the world, with those in developing nations growing richer. Spain receives approximately 60 million tourists a year, with a growing number of visitors from emerging economies such as Mexico, Brazil and China. The country boasts a rich cultural history, from the Alhambra palace – which dates back to the medieval years of Muslim rule – to tours retracing Pablo Picasso’s early 20th century youth in Barcelona.
8. Colombia (Rank 108)
Every year Colombia hosts Barranquilla’s Carnival, a four-day folklore festival dating to the 19th century. Ranked by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, it is part of the country’s rich cultural heritage on offer to tourists. The Latin American nation is also home to a highly diverse ecosystem, with over 3,000 species. Although the country has been troubled by a civil war in some regions, Colombia has grown a safer place over the past few years, reflected by an increase in tourist numbers. The country also has a liberal visa policy, allowing for easy access.
Source: World Economic Forum