Hong Kong and other Asian cities shut out of world’s top 10 tourist destinations amid tough travel restrictions

The stringent approach of many Asian cities to shutting out Covid-19 may have kept case numbers in check and taken some pressure off local economies. But it has done nothing for their global standing as tourism destinations.

Asian cities are nowhere to be seen in the top 10 of an index ranking the world’s best destinations. Paris and other European cities dominate the list compiled by Euromonitor International, owing to their more relaxed travel policies amid the pandemic.

The Top 100 City Destinations Index 2021 tracks 54 different metrics across six key pillars to generate an overall attractiveness score. The pillars are tourism performance, economic and business performance, tourism policy and attractiveness, tourism infrastructure, health and safety and sustainability.

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The ranking was first launched in 2019, doing away with the research firm’s previous metric of solely measuring the number of visitor arrivals – an index which Hong Kong topped for a decade until 2018.

Paris, known as the city of love, came out on top, reclaiming the crown it held in 2019. Dubai slipped a notch to take second place, followed by Amsterdam in The Netherlands.

Hong Kong ranked 49th, falling eight spots from 2020. In 2019, it placed 26th.

“Eight of the top 10 cities in the Top 100 City Destinations Index are European,” the report said. “Surprisingly, Asia lacks any representation. Tokyo is the highest-ranking Asian city, ranked 15th.”

The French capital got the highest ranking in terms of tourism performance and the second highest ranking for tourism policy and infrastructure globally.

“Performance was boosted by American and Asian tourists returning to Paris,” the report said. “However, the city still awaits the comeback of British tourists, one of its main source markets.

“The city is in the bottom quadrant in terms of health and safety, despite increased efforts to boost vaccination rates in a vaccine-hesitant population.”

In June, France broadly eased travel policies for tourists, letting fully vaccinated foreign nationals into the country.

The discovery of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, however, is likely to have a negative impact on Paris and other European cities that have recently reimposed some measures to keep the new strain away from their population.

“It is obvious that all negative news and new restrictions connected to Omicron do not create a positive environment for travelling,” said Vitalij Vladykin, senior research manager, services and payments, at Euromonitor.

In terms of economic and business performance, Asian cities outranked their European and American peers.

Singapore was ranked first by that metric, followed by Taipei and then Hong Kong. These cities had imposed some of the toughest pandemic measures that allowed their local economies to reopen much faster, but had also closed them off from tourists.

In recent days, Asian cities have reimposed more measures owing to the discovery of the new variant.

Hong Kong added at least 16 nations to its highest-risk category, requiring a 21-day quarantine and barring non-residents from flying in. Japan has also banned all incoming foreign travellers for the entire month.

“I think inevitably this is going to negatively impact the performance of these destinations, affect their appeal to international travellers and hurt revenues. It will take at least four years to return to pre-Covid-19 figures,” Vladykin said.

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