The UK has the fifth most competitive tourism market in the world, helped by its healthy business environment, strong air travel infrastructure and cultural attractions.
But the World Economic Forum's travel report shows that only Switzerland is a more expensive destination than the UK, which ranks 140th out of 141 countries on price competitiveness.
The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitive Index found that the strength of the UK’s sector was weighed down by its heavy Air Passenger Duty and airport charges.
Airline bosses have called on the new government to act to abolish APD on the back of the report.
Spain topped the index for the first time due to a surge in tourists from emerging markets including China, Brazil and Mexico.
More than 60 milion people travelled to Spain in 2013, making it the third most visited country in the world.
Spain’s top position was helped by a world class ranking in cultural resources (first globally), its ability to support online searches for entertainment (fourth) – a measure of how well the country has adapted to consumption habits brought on by the digital revolution – as well as excellent infrastructure (fourth), according to the Index.
Traditional strong travel and tourism destinations such as France, Germany, the US, UK, Switzerland, Australia, Italy, Japan and Canada complete the top 10.
Of the large emerging markets, China (17th) and Brazil (28th) made it into the top 30, while Russia, South Africa and India ranked 45th, 48th and 52nd, respectively.
This made Brazil and South Africa the best placed in their region, Singapore (11th) came up top in South-East Asia, and the United Arab Emirates (24th) was the highest placed nation in the Middle East and North Africa.
World Economic Forum economist, Roberto Crotti, said: “The diversity in the top 30 shows that a country does not have to be wealthy to have a flourishing tourism sector.
“But many countries should still do more to tackle travel and tourism challenges, including visa policies, better promotion of cultural heritage, environmental protection and ICT readiness. This in turn would drive economic growth and the creation of jobs.”
The report also identifies areas where tourism-oriented economies could do better in adapting to changing global trends as well as growing market segments.
These include a growing number of middle class travellers from emerging and developing countries, senior consumers and millennials.
It also finds a need for travel-reliant economies to adapt faster to online services and marketing, as mobile internet continues to define the way travellers select, plan and review their trips.
The global travel and tourism sector, which already accounts for almost one-tenth of global GDP, grew at an average of 3.4% per year over the past four.
This compares favourably with the global economy, which grew at only 2.3% per year, indicating the sector’s resilience to economic shocks.
Growth in the sector could accelerate to 5.2% a year over the next five years, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
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