London hosts 18.32m international overnight visitors a year

Housing debate must take overnight visitors into account

Attracting overseas visitors is a mainstay of a healthy city economy, but how to house an ever-growing number of guests – who often form sizeable temporary populations – tends to be overlooked in debates over residential housing supply and density.  

Of the locations in our recent 12 Cities report, nine are ranked within the top 20 cities globally for attracting international overseas visitors, while five have visitor numbers in excess of 100,000 per night. London comes top of the league, hosting 18.82 million international overnight visitors per year. This is the equivalent of the population of an entire London borough the size of Wandsworth, Lambeth or Newham – almost 300,000 people each and every night.

Other cities with large numbers of overseas overnight visitors include Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo and Singapore, making up the rest of the top five.

As international travel becomes increasingly affordable for populations who may have previously either not travelled or favoured domestic tourism, the number of overnight visitors to these cities is likely to grow. From China alone, outbound tourism grew 18.7 per cent to 117 million ‘person times’ (ie, number of visits made in total) in 2014. The UN World Tourism Organisation has also reported that number of international tourist arrivals grew by 4 per cent in the first half of 2015 alone. Worldwide destinations greeted 538 million international tourists between January and June, an increase of 21 million compared with the same period in 2014: Europe, Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East all recorded a 5 per cent growth in international arrivals and the Americas a 4 per cent rise.

A large proportion of these visitors are likely to head to city destinations due to their unique cultural and retail offers. However, with the exception of Dubai, our top five most-visited cities are all facing space constraints and available sites are often at a premium.The question of how to accommodate visitors in attractive, convenient, good-quality accommodation therefore needs to move up the agenda and to be considered alongside – if not on a par with – how to house permanent residents.

With the rise of new types of visitor accommodation such as Airbnb, and competition between hoteliers and residential developers for building plots, we see the distinction between temporary and permanent residents as increasingly artificial. Visitors may stay a short while as individuals but collectively, they are significant populations regardless of whether they occupy hotel rooms or apartments.

If this demand for space is not considered alongside housing needs, then these cities could see a drop in their popularity as visitors start to experience increasing expense, a lack of availability or choice, and look to travel elsewhere.

Further information

Read the full report – 12 Cities: The Rise of the Digital City.

In plain English

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