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Unicorns rising in Europe; Asia going cashless

By: - Reporter / @neltayao
/ 05:20 AM November 26, 2017

Hong Kong has emerged as the world’s top city destination

A “cashless” Asia, the rise of unicorns in Europe, a rail revolution in the United Kingdom, and technological innovations such as facial-, voice-, and emotion-recognition software.

These are the notable tourism trends in the world’s top city destinations published in “Top 100 City Destinations Ranking: WTM London 2017 Edition,” a report created exclusively by global research firm Euromonitor International for the annual travel trade show World Travel Market London.

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It combines Euromonitor’s ranking of the world’s Top 100 cities–based on the number of international arrivals that spend 24 hours or more in each city—with the forecast of the WTM Global Trends Report.

Of the 100, the Top 10 are: Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Singapore, Macau, Dubai, Paris, New York City, Shenzhen, and Kuala Lumpur. (No Philippine city made the list).

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Asia Pacific, in particular, is cited as the world’s “standout region.” Euromonitor’s Top 100 ranking in 2010 had 34 Asia Pacific cities, which increased to 41 cities this year. That number is expected to grow to 47 by 2025, thanks to the impact of inter-Asian travel.

The region’s cities are also fast-becoming smart cities, states the report, with Seoul and Hong Kong the region’s “serious contenders.” A big step toward this kind of future is the growth of digital payment facilities.

“South Korea is nearly completely cashless. However, many Chinese urbanites are also fully cashless, using mobile payment apps such as AliPay and WeChat Pay, which have become giants by offering easy payment options,” the report reads. “In India, mobile payment app PayTM is paving the way for banked and unbanked citizens to buy travel products without cash.”

Cashless options, naturally, include mobile payment channels as well, and Euromonitor identifies one Asian nation which has truly become “mobile-first”: China. Accounting for over a billion internet subscriptions worldwide, Chinese consumers, for the first time in 2015, made more purchases through their mobile devices than computers; 64 percent of their travel purchases this year were also mobile-based.

Over in Europe, the travel landscape appears to be a bit more uncertain because of geopolitical factors such as the Eurozone crisis, Brexit, the migrant crisis, and terrorist attacks. Despite this, the region’s top cities remain largely unchanged.

Another travel issue in Europe is overcrowding, the report states. “Barcelona, Venice and Santorini are high-profile examples of cities struggling with overcrowding. For Venice and Santorini, the main culprit is cruise visitors, with the latter city limiting the number of ships since early 2017.”

On the bright side, Brexit has led to the increase of arrivals in the UK—growth is at 5.2 percent this year. By 2020, it is expected that Britain’s target of 40 million inbound arrivals will be achieved, “thanks to strong inbound demand from Europe, North America and Asia, because of the pound’s depreciation post-Brexit,” the report states.

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However, Brexit “threatens to undermine London’s dominant position for ease of doing business and its attractiveness as a startup hub,” the report continues. “Competing cities that have emerged to steal its crown include Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Stockholm, Dublin and Amsterdam, based on transport connections, diversity and creative spirit.”

Still, London, remains in the Top 20 of Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2017, along with some of the aforementioned European cities (Silicon Valley still holds the title of startup capital of the world). Some of these startups address travel pain points: Flyto, for example, uses software that integrates with a travel provider’s website and allows customers to pay for their trips in installments, while the company pays the provider upfront.

The UK government is also focused on making the rest of the UK more accessible, and they see rail as the best transportation option to do so. By December this year, Eurostar will open its London-Amsterdam route, which promises travel time of less than four hours. More rail projects are expected to open from 2018 until 2033.

Like in Europe, uncertainty is also the travel theme in the US, with inbound arrivals steadily decelerating due to political uncertainty surrounding their elections.

“Global unease has accompanied President Trump to the White House. Trump entered office on the back of claims that he would close the US border, build a wall between Mexico and the US, and end trade agreements, all potentially affecting the travel industry,” the report states.

Part of Trump’s policy to tighten border controls is the speedy implementation of biometric scanners at airports—face, fingerprint and eye scans. This has led the travel industry to also look at other technological innovations, such as voice and emotion recognition. The report cites hotel chain Marriott as one example of an institution which uses Amazon’s Alexa for virtual concierges, as well as for voice-controlled lights, room temperature and music.

Going beyond face and voice, some companies have begun to explore the potential of emotion-recognition software. Expedia, for one, has labs dedicated to studying how its platform makes users feel by attaching sensors to subjects’ faces as they explore the website.

Finally, while uncertainty is the theme when it comes to travel in the US and UK, dichotomy is the story in the Middle East and Africa—“a dichotomy between cities that are performing well, and [have made it] into the Top 100, and those that have fallen outside due to strong declines,” the report reads.

However, 2017 is still expected to be a good year for the region, despite the fluctuating performance which was largely due to unrest in many of its countries.

Dubai is the cited as the Middle East’s top-performing city, thanks to its fast-paced technological innovations; its target is to have 20 million visitors by the 2020, one that Euromonitor expects will be met.

And contrary to the US and Europe, where border controls are becoming stricter, Africa is looking to open more of its borders, as its leaders see travel and tourism as one way to improve the continent’s economy.

According to the report, the African Union’s plans of having seamless borders are outlined in their Agenda 2063 policy document.

Last year, the African passport was launched, allowing holders to travel visa-free to all of the 53 member states.

“However, the [travel] industry also has a role to play,” the report states. “At the moment, there are very few direct air connections between African countries, and many African citizens resort to traveling via Europe to reach another African country. Increasing flight paths between regional hubs would contribute to a more open Africa.”

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TAGS: “cashless” Asia, Europe, Unicorns, WTM London 2017 Edition
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