The surprising countries where tourism grew fastest in 2018

An increase of 22.4% in visitors has been predicted for Turkey in 2018
An increase of 22.4% in visitors has been predicted for Turkey in 2018
Image: Getty

With less than 10 days to go until we bid farewell to 2018, it feels an opportune time to look at the countries that thrust themselves onto travel radars over the last 12 months – and those that slipped from the spotlight.

The story for several nations was one of continued recovery. Take Turkey. It endured a year to forget in 2015, when security concerns saw visitor numbers fall from 39.5 million to 30.3 million.

In 2017, it clawed back much of that ground, with 37.6 million overseas tourists exploring its ancient sites or flopping onto one of its beaches.

But 2018 looks certain to be its biggest yet, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) forecasting 46 million visitors, an increase of 22.4%.

That’s based on figures up to and including September – the exact total won’t be known until early in 2019 – and it should be enough to see Turkey leapfrog the UK and Mexico to become the world’s sixth most visited country.

Tunisia is also resurgent. The terror attack in Sousse saw visitor numbers fall to 5.4 million in 2015.

They steadied to 5.7 million in 2016, rose to 7.1 million last year, and are expected to increase again to about 8.3 million for 2018 (up 16.9%).

But which was the world’s fastest-growing travel destination in 2018? As outlined above, the final figures will not be confirmed for a few months – but the majority of countries have supplied the UNWTO with data for the first nine months of the year.

Topping the chart for yearon-year growth is a South American nation that’s home to an Avenue of Volcanoes and a train journey called The Devil’s Nose. It’s Ecuador.

Top, Medellin has transformed itself from murder capital to holiday destination and below, Ecuador's Avenue of Volcanoes
Top, Medellin has transformed itself from murder capital to holiday destination and below, Ecuador's Avenue of Volcanoes

The country is predicting an increase in visitor numbers of 56.1%, from 1.6 million to around 2.5 million, and appears to be reaping the rewards of a long-term plan to boost tourism through marketing.

However fears were raised in 2018 that “overtourism” might be putting Ecuador’s biggest draw, the Galapagos Islands, at risk. There is a cap on the number of cruise ships that can visit the remote archipelago, but land-based tours are not so tightly controlled.

Ecuador’s neighbour, Colombia, is also experiencing a tourism boom (up 32.8% from 4 million to 5.3 million), something many have put down to the popularity of the Netflix series Narcos .

Telegraph Travel reported earlier in 2018 on how Medellin has transformed itself from murder capital to hipster holiday destination.

“Today Medellin feels newborn,” wrote Stanley Stewart.

“It helps that the setting is gorgeous. The city lies in a long valley between two Andean mountain ridges. Capital of Antioquia province, a fertile region famous for its coffee plantations and its flower farms, for its orchids and butterflies, it is known as the City of Eternal Spring for its idyllic climate.”

Vietnam’s meteoric rise also goes on, driven by waves of visitors from China. Back in 1990, just 250,000 foreigners visited. That figure grew to 3.5 million in 2005, five million in 2010 and 7.9 million in 2015. In 2017, 12.9 million went to Vietnam; in 2018 it will be around 15.8 million (up 22.4%).

After Turkey, Europe’s fastest growing destination is Albania (up 19.8% to 5.5 million). It is increasingly being seen as Eastern Europe’s answer to the Amalfi Coast.

The tiny island of Tuvalu appears near the top of the table – but it only had 2,000 visitors in 2017, so that 35.5% increase will only amount to some 700 extra travellers. It is still the least visited nation on the planet, but according to UNWTO – head there for serious bragging rights.

There were losers in 2018, as well as winners – including the UK. The first six months of the year saw a fall in arrivals of 6.8%. Should that trend continue for the whole of 2018, arrivals will drop from 37.7 million to 35.1 million.

Early indications suggest no other major tourist destination has experienced a bigger slump.

Several minnows have seen a steeper drop, including Timor-Leste (-17.7% up to and including June) and Papua New Guinea (-26.5% to June).

Anguilla was hit by Hurricane Irma, so its 49% fall in visitors (up to July) is unsurprising. So too is St Maarten’s 74.8% decline (to June).

Political unrest hit Nicaragua in 2018, contributing to a 26.7% fall in visitors up to September.