Countries that make the most money from tourism: UNWTO report reveals the top tourist industries

Tourism is booming. That's the takeaway from the 2018 edition of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation's recently released Tourism Highlights report.

A big-picture overview of the state of international tourism in 2017, the report trumpeted the increase in international tourism arrivals, which grew by 7 per cent over the figure for 2016. That's the highest annual increase since the economic crisis of 2009-10.

As well as showing the number of international arrivals for each country, the report also list the income derived from international tourism, and there are some surprises in the mix.

International tourism contributes $US1340 billion ($1896 billion) to the world economy. The biggest share of that ends up in the pockets of Europe, with 39 per cent of the total. Not too surprising since Europe also accounts for 52 per cent of the total number of international visitors.

However Asia and the Pacific, which welcomes 24 per cent of the total number of foreign visitors, takes 29 per cent of the pie. The Americas do even better, earning 24 per cent of all international tourism expenditure with just 16 per cent of the total number of international travellers in 2017. But the big surprise is just how well Australia does (see below).

Who earns most from visitors?

Young traveler woman enjoying the view of beautiful nature from Olmsted point in Yosemite national park. Ellery end Tenayaka lakes in the valley

Yosemite National Park in the US. Photo: Shutterstock

Although it sits in third place on the list of countries that receive the most international visitors, the US made more income from tourism than any other country, a whopping $US211 billion in 2017. That's $US2739 from each of its 77 million international visitors. In second place, Spain earned less than a third as much from tourism, $US68 billion, a comparatively modest $US831 per person from its 82 million international arrivals. France received five million more visitors than Spain yet it earned less in total, $US61 billion, which was $US8 billion less than Spain, with an average visitor spend of just $US698.

The US figure is explained partly by the length of time international visitors spend there, whereas visitors to France and Spain, surrounded by the huge populations of Western Europe, are often there for a weekend. One surprise – Canada earns far less than the USA per visitor, just $US977 from each of its 20 million arrivals.

The European winners

Britain gets less than half the number of international visitors as France and Spain yet on average each visitor spent more than twice what they spend in France, $US1360 a person. That's the same as the average spent per visitor to Iceland. Although the average length of stay for international visitors to Iceland is much shorter than the same figure for Britain, the cost of travel, food and accommodation in Iceland is far higher.

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Luxembourg earned more per visitor than any other European country in 2017, $US4322. Although visitor numbers are comparatively small at just 1.5 million, that's a healthy income – just under $US7800 for each of Luxembourg's 580,000 inhabitants.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you're looking for a bargain holiday in Europe, Turkey could be just the place. At No. 8 on the list of countries that saw the most visitors, Turkey earned an average of just $US597 per arrival.

The part of Europe in which travellers spent the least in 2017 was the sector the UNWTO identifies as Central and Eastern Europe, a list that includes such countries as the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and the Russian Federation. Within that area the average traveller spent just $US447.

Visitors to Israel, included as part of Southern and Mediterranean Europe by the UNWTO, recorded a far higher average spend, $US1887 for each of the country's 3.6 million visitors in 2017.

The Asian tigers

Maya Bay beach Thailand

Thailand's Maya Bay beach is closed due to environmental damage from too many tourists. Photo: Shutterstock

In south-east Asia, Thailand was the most popular country for foreign tourists with 35 million visitors in 2017. It also earned more on average from each one of those tourists than any other country in the region, a healthy $US1624 per person. Singapore, which is far more expensive for travellers, earned $US1417 on average per visitor, but the average length of stay is much shorter in Singapore than in Thailand. Laos was bottom of the table for the region, with an average spend of just $US198 a visitor. In neighbouring Vietnam, at the top of the region's rankings for the greatest increase in visitor numbers for the year, the average visitor spent $685 in 2017.

Among the countries of north-east Asia, China welcomed more visitors than any other country, close to 33 million in 2017, yet average spend per visitor was just $US536. Japan had less than half as many visitors as China yet it earned just under $US2 billion more in total, with an average spend per visitor of $US1186. Hong Kong had just 1 million fewer visitors than China and average spend was much the same, at $US1194 per person.

The wonder Down Under

Generic photo. tourists, asian tourist, harbour, sydney, opera house, city, overseas tourists. 17 August 2018.

Australia makes more money per visitor than any other country. Photo: Peter Braig

The country that earned the most from every foreign visitor in 2017, in fact blew all others out of the water, was the one you're probably standing in right now. In 2017, each of Australia's 8.8 million international visitors spent on average $US4734. More than in Liechtenstein, more than in the US, more than in the UAE. The figure for New Zealand that year was $US2893 per visitor, and although travel costs in New Zealand are about on par with Australia's, most visitors spend less time there, which accounts for the difference in average spend.

The top 10 countries that make the most from tourism

1. USA, $299 billion

2. Spain: $96 billion

3. France: $86 billion

4. Thailand: $81 billion

5. United Kingdom: $72 billion

6. Italy: $62 billion

7. Australia: $59 billion

8. Germany: $57 billion

9. Macao (China): $51 billion

10. Japan: $48 billion

See also: The world's most visited city for 2018 named

See also: Overrun by tourists: Countries with worst 'overtourism' named

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