The world’s best countries for tourism, according to the World Economic Forum | CNN
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The United States has just won a significant honor – being named the world’s best country for travel and tourism in 2024 by the World Economic Forum.

The rankings are determined by a broad range of criteria, including infrastructure, natural resources, sustainability, labor availability and – since this is the World Economic Fund we’re talking about – competitive pricing.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the WEF data focuses on tourism – the business of hotels, airports, attractions, airlines and the like – and not just what it’s like to be a traveler on the ground.

Europe in the lead

Six of the top 10 countries on the list are in Europe, with Spain the highest overall. The report calls the continent “a resilient destination with strong intraregional travel flows,” and gives it high marks for train connectivity. There are also points for having strong economies, the good position of the Euro and pound, and the likelihood of Europeans to travel more – which, in turn, means spending money.

It’s no surprise that France scores highly, landing in fourth position overall. The country knows it has the world’s eyes looking its way ahead of the Summer Olympics in Paris this year.

Another factor taken into account is the power of many European passports. Every year, the Henley Index ranks the world’s most powerful passports, and their data has been included in the WEF report. For 2024, six countries share the number one ranking – France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore and Spain. Five of those nations appear in the WEF’s top 10, with Singapore a respectable 13th.

Shanghai, pictured here, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China.

The scene in Asia

“In 2024, global tourism growth is expected to be reinforced by the continued satisfaction of pent-up demand and growth in major Asian markets after travel restrictions have been lifted following a delay compared to other regions,” says the report.

That certainly feels true in Japan, this year’s third-place country, which has been experiencing a tourism boom since reopening post-pandemic. More than three million foreign tourists per month went to Japan in both March and April 2024, with more expected to visit during the coming summer holidays.

Meanwhile, eighth-place China has in recent months made some moves to make it easier for tourists to visit. In March, it dropped visa requirements for residents of several European countries, including Ireland, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

It’s also easier than ever for Americans to visit China, as they no longer need to provide an itinerary or proof of hotel bookings to get a travel visa.

American beauty

While the US is the only North American country in the top 10, neighbor Canada lands just off the chart in 11th position.

According to the WEF, the US is a “mature” tourism market, meaning it already has infrastructure in place to welcome visitors, such as air links connecting cities and on-the-ground support like tour guides, rental cars, hotel rooms and maps.

The US’ size and scope really help it stand out: from national parks to big cities to great beaches, there’s a big variety of offerings for travelers.

However, there’s one potential caveat amid the praise. The report says there’s a likelihood that the US will experience a tourism labor shortage. Like many places around the globe, the pandemic played a big role in people leaving the hospitality business to work elsewhere.

Australia is lauded for its wide variety of tourism offerings, like the world-famous Bondi Beach (pictured).

Good for tourism versus overtourism

It seems impossible to look at a list of the most popular countries for tourists without also acknowledging that in some places too much tourism is the problem. The United States (in first place) and China have the advantage of being large and having lots of room to work with, which helps spread the flow of visitors.

Not every destination in the top 10 is so lucky, though. In runner-up Spain, Barcelona voted to keep cruise ships away from the city center, while citizens of the Canary Islands have taken to the streets – and even threatened a hunger strike – to protest overtourism.

Italy, in ninth position, has also struggled to balance its thriving tourism market with the needs of local communities.

Venice began charging a “tourist tax” entry fee last month, and the northern region of Bolzano - South Tyrol has capped its hotel capacity, allowing a new hotel to open only if another has closed.

Spain was the highest-ranked European country on the WEF list.

The top 10 countries for tourism, according to the World Economic Forum

1. The United States

2. Spain

3. Japan

4. France

5. Australia

6. Germany

7. The United Kingdom

8. China

9. Italy

10. Switzerland