If you think there are more tourists than ever, you are right. More than one billion people now visit another country each year. The U.N.'s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) expects the number of international tourists this year to break 2013's record of 1.1 billion travelers. That in turn topped 2012's number, the first year the 1 billion tourist milestone was passed. Best guess at this point by the UNWTO is that 40 million to 50 million more tourists will venture abroad this year than last.
So where are they all going?
We have combed through the numbers for tourist arrivals and hotel stays to find the 10 most popular destinations for international tourists.
Ten years ago, such a list would have been dominated by the historic cultural polestars of Old Europe: France, Spain, Italy, U.K., Germany and Austria. Today, France retains its preeminence as the destination of choice for international tourists — 82 million visited last year; more than 90 million are expected in 2014 — but the U.S. has moved up into second place and China into third.
Mexico has dropped out of the top 10 to be replaced by Turkey while Austria has been replaced by Malaysia, reflecting Southeast Asia's status as the world's fastest growing tourist region of recent years, partly driven by an increase in outbound travelers from China. Macao has joined Hong Kong and Thailand in the top 20, South Korea and Singapore are now in the top 25.
Plenty of tourists from China — and everywhere else — are to be found among those lining up to ascend the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or to shuffle past the Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum or to admire the 13th century Gothic splendor of Notre Dame cathedral. Those are the three most popular attractions in the most popular destination country. Even then they barely scratch the surface of what Paris has to offer, let alone the rest of France with its chateaux, cathedrals, vineyards, beaches and mountains, not to mention its regional food and wines.
France also has plenty to offer the active tourist, from backroads cycling in Provence or Brittany to skiing or walking and climbing, according to the season, in the Alps or the Pyrenees. Sailing, diving and water skiing are popular in the Mediterranean. Try kayaking in the Verdon Gorge, Europe's largest river canyon, or hang-gliding and mountain biking in the rugged upper Dordogne to take you off the beaten tourist path.
Two different ways to see the sights of Paris: run the city's annual marathon, held every April and one of Europe's most popular big-city 26.2-milers, or the even more popular with Parisians 20 kilometer run held in October. Both loop through the heart of the city so you will catch all the sights. For more trail and road races in France see A Visitor's Guide To Running France.