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Economy

Southeast Asian cities among top favorites for leisure travel

Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur among top 10 global destinations since 2009

Travelers take photos at the Wat Pho Buddhist temple in Bangkok. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

SINGAPORE -- Southeast Asian cities are proving to be popular destination choices for many tourists, with Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur among the top 10 global destinations since 2009, according to Mastercard.

The annual Mastercard Index of Global Destination Cities index ranks 132 destination cities based on their number of total international overnight visitor arrivals. It also looks at cross-border spending by these same visitors in the destination cities.

Other Southeast Asian cities have also performed well, despite not being in the top 10. Vietnam's Hanoi saw 2.94 million visitors who spent $1.1 billion, while Jakarta had 2.13 million visitors, who brought in $1.5 billion in revenue.

A key driver of Southeast Asia's popularity is the rise of the Chinese traveler. Eric Schneider, senior vice president of Asia Pacific at Mastercard Advisors, said there has been a significant increase of Chinese outbound tourism to Southeast Asia. "China is the top contributor of travel and tourism in Southeast Asia, with an average growth rate of 28.3% a year," he added.

More Chinese are travelling overseas to places like Southeast Asia thanks to a growing middle class with more spending money. Increasing flight connectivity in Southeast Asia and easing of visa restrictions have made the region "a very attractive travel hotspot, with an optimistic growth outlook," Schneider noted.

Increased investment into the travel and tourism industry also helped fuel the region' rising popularity. In 2016, Southeast Asia's travel and tourism industry was expected to attract capital investment of $48.6 billion. "This figure is expected to rise by 4% in 2017," according to Schneider.

While only three Southeast Asian cities made it into the global top 10, more Southeast Asian cities could become part of the ranking in the future. Schneider noted that Southeast Asian governments have made "significant strides in developing their local infrastructure to make their cities more welcoming to visitors," but it "will take time for such efforts to come to fruition."

In North Asia, Seoul was a more popular option for tourists than Tokyo for most of the years from 2012 to 2016, according to the Mastercard survey. During this period, Tokyo managed to overtake Seoul only in 2015 with 10.35 million visitors while Seoul had 9.34 million. Despite Tokyo seeing tourist numbers grew to 11.15 million in 2016, it was not enough to beat Seoul's jump to 12.39 million tourists. However, Mastercard expects Tokyo to see a larger number of visitors for 2017, with growth forecast at 12.2%. It forecast only 0.4% growth for Seoul.

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