Global Travel Kings

The peak summer travel season is well underway in the northern hemisphere. This means that shopping districts from Los Angeles to London to Berlin are full of people with their dollars, yuan and yen as well as euros. We wonder: Which nation’s population spends the most on international tourism?

A. United States
B. Germany
C. China
D. Russia

A. United States is not correct.

The United States ranks second in spending on international tourism. In 2014, the latest year for which data are available, U.S. tourists spent a total of $110.8 billion overseas, according to the UN’s Madrid-based World Tourism Organization.

Since most Americans travel in their own country’s borders, Americans’ spending on international tourism is only a fraction of their spending on domestic tourism. Americans spend almost seven times more on domestic travel than foreign travel ($748.3 billion as of 2013), according to the U.S. Travel Association.

By contrast, Europeans — who enjoy a similar level of prosperity as Americans — can travel to foreign destinations more easily and less expensively by car, train or low-cost flights, due to the often shorter distances to a different country.

The United States also ranks second in the world, behind only France, as the most popular destination receiving international tourists. In 2014, the United States attracted just under 74.8 million foreign tourists, while France drew in 83.7 million.

B. Germany is not correct.

Germans spend more than any other nation in Europe on international travel. In 2014, they spent a total of $92.2 billion abroad — the third-highest total of any nation.

Since the mid-20th century, the number of international tourists has grown steadily. Back in 1950, international tourist arrivals worldwide totaled just 25 million — equal to only about 1% of the world’s population at the time. By 1980, the number had jumped ten-fold to 278 million — or about 6% of the world population.

According to the World Tourism Organization, 1.36 billion people are expected to travel abroad each year by 2020 — or almost one in every five people on Earth.

C. China is correct.

Until the early 1990s, China’s government prohibited its people from spending holidays abroad. Two decades later, in 2012, China — the world’s most populous country — became the world’s largest spender on international tourism.

At $164.9 billion in 2014, China’s international tourists outspent second-ranked United States by more than $54 billion and third-ranked Germany by nearly $73 billion. That amount represents a more than twelve-fold increase over the $13.1 billion which Chinese tourists spent abroad in 2000.

Divided by the 1.37 billion Chinese, the country’s theoretical per capita spending on international tourism — at $121 — is still very small compared to the United States and Western European nations.

However, the actual amount spent by each Chinese tourist who actually travels abroad is far higher — especially those traveling to Western Europe and the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the 2.2 million Chinese visitors to the United States in 2014 spent about $10 billion — or more than $4,500 per person.

The relatively lavish spending by Chinese travelers in the West helps explain why, for example, upscale department stores in cities such as New York, Paris, London and Frankfurt staff their sales counters with Mandarin-speaking clerks.

In the past, Chinese travelers had an extra incentive for making their luxury purchases abroad — circumventing China’s high taxes on such purchases at home. However in early 2016 the Chinese government announced a luxury tax would be extended to items brought back by travelers.

D. Russia is not correct.

Three of the five BRICS nations — the emerging market economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are among the ten nations with the highest spending on international travel.

After China, Russia is the second-highest spender among BRICS nation. Like China, citizens of the Soviet Union long faced severe restrictions on traveling outside the country. These restrictions began to loosen in the 1980s under Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness.

In 2014, Russia spent $50.4 billion on international tourism, ranking it fifth globally, just below the United Kingdom ($57.6 billion). More recently, Russians’ total spending has been negatively affected by the depreciation of the Russian ruble, which makes any international travel much more expensive.

Recent incidents, such as the Metrojet airplane crash in October 2015 in Sinai and strife with Turkey have put a further damper on Russian tourism abroad. Those two countries were the top two overseas travel destinations for Russians as of 2014.

As a tourism destination itself, Russia saw a slight increase in 2014 for arriving tourists – and maintained its standing as the ninth most popular destination for international tourists.

Rounding out the top ten spenders on international tourism are, in ranks six through ten, France ($47.8 billion), Canada ($33.8 billion), Italy ($28.8 billion), Australia ($26.3 billion) and Brazil ($25.6 billion).

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