The world's fastest growing countries for tourism in 2019

As a traveller, you have a feeling for these things. Which country or city is everyone talking about wanting to visit? Where have your friends been recently? Which destinations keep popping up on your social media feeds?

Travel has fashions – some destinations are hot, some are not. Some have captured our collective imaginations, while others seem stale and boring. You normally figure this stuff out by pure feel.

However, there are also stats. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation recently released its annual International Tourism Highlights report, which details the countries where tourism has grown the most, and where it has fallen the furthest.

In other words, the destinations that are hot, and those that are not. Here are some of the most interesting results.

HOT

Ecuador – up 51 per cent

Galapagos Islands wildlife and landscapes.

Fernandina, one of the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Craig Platt

Topping the list of heavy hitters in 2018: Ecuador, with a jump from 1.6 million to 2.42 million visitors. That's pretty good going considering the rest of South America has been in the doldrums. Why is everyone suddenly going to Ecuador? Simple: the Galapagos Islands. More than 10 per cent of people who travelled to Ecuador last year visited this unique archipelago, which is a pretty phenomenal number.

Iran – up 49.9 per cent

Mashhad, Iran - October 04, 2015: Around the Shrine complex. Haram e Razavi. Mashhad. Iran. iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. Iran.

Mashhad, Iran. Photo: iStock

Here's one that gladdens the heart. Iran's numbers might still be small – 7.3 million visitors in 2018, compared with, say, France's 89 million – but they're increasing sharply. More and more people are being drawn to one of the world's most misunderstood countries, which can only be a good thing. Get there now before everyone else does.

Egypt – up 36 per cent

Karnak in Luxor, Egypt. Photo: iStock

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This is another good news story, given the troubles Egypt has experienced in recent years. Relative calm on the political front has led to a resurgence for the local tourism industry, with international visitors flocking back. The country's numbers are not quite back to the heyday of 2010 (still about 3 million short), but they're getting there.

Uganda – up 31.9 per cent

This is an interesting one because it's not as if Uganda has suddenly had a rash of good publicity, or that the political situation in the country has dramatically improved. Still, business is booming, helped along no doubt by the increase in interest in trekking to see mountain gorillas in the country's west.

Nepal – up 24 per cent

Colorful landscape with high Himalayan mountains, beautiful curving river, green forest, blue sky with clouds and yellow sunlight at sunset in summer in Nepal. Mountain valley. Travel in Himalayas iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.
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More good news! Nepal suffered terribly from the earthquake in 2015, which destroyed much of its tourist infrastructure. However, rebuild it and they will come: the tourists are returning to Nepal, with a 24 per cent jump in 2018.

Slovenia – up 23 per cent

Slovenia is another notable big hitter, given it's such a small country that people know relatively little about. But word is getting out: about the food, about the mountain landscapes, about the fairy tale villages and the beautiful rivers and lakes. This is the perfect alternative to, say, Switzerland or Italy, and people are clueing onto it.

Palestinian Territories – up 20.5 per cent

Another good news story, as far as I'm concerned, because Palestine cops such bad press when in fact it's a fascinating, friendly and beautiful place to visit. The territories are popular with pilgrims of various religions, of course – people who want to visit sacred sites. But I hope they also stop to appreciate the modern culture.

Vietnam – up 19.9 per cent

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam - December 1, 2016: Bui Vien Street (a tourist area). Scooter traffic in Saigon tourist district with Bitexco Financial Tower in background. Many people (unidentified) walk and drive scooters. Many signboards of hotels and hostels. sataug31vespa
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Ho Chi Minh City vespa
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iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: iStock

Everyone loves Vietnam, and why wouldn't they? The country is cheap, it's friendly, it's beautiful, and the food is spectacular. In 2010, only 5 million people visited Vietnam. Last year that number was 15.5 million – a 210 per cent increase. I would say get there before everyone else does, but they've already been.

Georgia – up 16.9 per cent

Panoramic view of Tbilisi, Georgia after sunset. sataug31cover
iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: iStock

This is usually a country I mention as a criminally underrated secret, an up-and-coming destination that deserves more credit than it gets. Apparently, however, it's time to shelve that notion. Georgia is on the up, with almost 5 million visitors last year (for perspective, Australia – huge, famous Australia – had just over 9 million). The secret's out.

South Korea – up 15.1 per cent

Korea – the southern one, not the crazy people's democratic one – has been popular for a few years now, but what's amazing is its continued rise. More than 15 million people visited last year. And what drew them there? The excellent air connections? The safety? The history? The Gangnam-style fashion? The food? Probably a little of everything.

NOT

South America – up 1.2 per cent

South America as a whole was pretty steady last year, but that's mostly because of Ecuador, plus Colombia was up 7.4 per cent and Argentina was up 3.2 per cent. Brazil was flat. The rest of the continent though? Shocker. Uruguay was down 5.6 per cent, Chile was down a huge 11.3 per cent, and Paraguay took a whopping 24.3 per cent hit. So what's the deal? Hard to say exactly, but after a boom for a few of these countries recently, maybe this is a natural realignment.

Qatar – down 19.4 per cent

The Pearl of Doha in Qatar aerial view iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. tra2-online-hot Ben Groundwater column

Photo: iStock

Qatar was another country that took a big hit, reflected by Qatar Airways posting a loss of $944 million last year. Much of that has to do with the country's forced embargo with neighbours Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, who have cut diplomatic ties with the country.

Puerto Rico – down 19.2 per cent

Here's another one that's easy to explain, given the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Puerto Rico will take a while to recover from that one.

United Kingdom – down 3.5 per cent

Tourists gather in Parliament Square, in view of the Elizabeth Tower, also known as Big Ben, the day after a terror attack in London, U.K., on Sunday, June 4, 2017.?A van swerved into Saturday-night crowds on London Bridge, before three men got out and went on a stabbing rampage through nearby bars.?Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Photo: Bloomberg

Most countries around the world are trending up. There are more people travelling than ever before, so you don't have to work too hard for growth. And yet the United Kingdom struggled in 2018, with tourist arrivals down 3.5 per cent. That's more than 1 million fewer people. It could be the Brexit effect. It could be that people want somewhere more exotic. Whatever it is, Britain is not hot.

Are you surprised by any of these numbers? Have you been to any of these "hot" countries recently? Where do you think are the next tourism hot spots?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: The top destinations for 2019 named by the experts

See also: The world's 32 best places to eat in 2019

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