Humans have been on the move for thousands of years – and in no time in history has it been easier to travel than today. Tourism is forming an increasing part of the global economy, even making up 9% of GDP and employing 1/11 people globally.
Some countries are economic powerhouses bringing in millions of tourists to do business locally while others are pristine gems which draw in adventure-seekers and nature-lovers. Whether it be a country filled with thermal lakes or a tiny city-state with one of the world’s top economies, here we’ve dug up the most visited countries in the world according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) 2015 report.
All numbers are reported arrivals for the year 2014. Going from only 25 million international tourists in 1950 to 1,133 million in 2014, people are traveling more than ever and for reasons from business to marathon-tourism to adventure-tourism to more. Check out which global hot spots have made it onto our list of the 25 Most Visited Countries in the World.
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Netherlands - 13.9 million
The Netherlands received 13.9 million tourists in 2014, nothing short of amazing for its small size. The second-largest exporter of food and agricultural products in the world, this Dutch-speaking country (with overseas possessions in the Caribbean) is a powerhouse on the global stage with various courts and legal institutions located in The Hague and the largest European port (larger than the next three combined) at Rotterdam. Many tourists visit for the country’s liberal policies on a variety of social issues including abortion, same-sex marriage, and soft drugs.
South Korea - 14.2 million
South Korea’s rapid development is nothing short of a miracle, growing its economy by at least 10% each year from 1962-1994. One of the Asian Tigers, South Korea has become one of the most advanced countries in the world, especially in the economy, human rights, and innovation. Besides this, it has been rapidly exporting its pop culture, often referred to as K-Pop, around the world, a major reason for its influx of tourists from Asia.
Macao (China) - 14.6 million
Officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Macao is the most densely populated area in the world. The last European colony in Asia, Macao was ceded by the Portuguese to China in 1999. (The area was originally leased to the Portuguese in 1557 by Ming Dynasty China as a trading port.) Today, Macao has the second highest life expectancy in the world and is mainly driven by its primary industry, gambling, which brings in most of its nearly 15 million tourists annually, making it the 18th most touristed country.
Canada - 16.5 million
Finally gaining full sovereignty from the U.K. in 1982, Canada is one of the most economically developed countries in the world. One of the only countries to border three oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, and the Arctic), Canada is an expansive country (second-largest in the world) whose economy, tourism and otherwise, is strongly based on natural resources and its natural beauty.
Poland - 16.6 million
Poland may come as a surprise on this list, but it shouldn’t give the country’s massive development since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in the late 1980s. The only European Union member state to have not experienced negative GDP during the financial crisis, Poland has long had a tumultuous history due to its prime position in Central Europe but has experienced significant recent growth.
Despite the destruction caused by World War II, Poland has preserved and rebuilt many important monuments including 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites. It’s also cheaper than other primary European destinations.