Now boarding: Faces, places, and trends shaping tourism in 2024

| Article

After falling by 75 percent in 2020, travel is on its way to a full recovery by the end of 2024. Domestic travel is expected to grow 3 percent annually and reach 19 billion lodging nights per year by 2030.1 Over the same time frame, international travel should likewise ramp up to its historical average of nine billion nights. Spending on travel is expected to follow a similar trajectory, with an estimated $8.6 trillion in traveler outlays in 2024, representing roughly 9 percent of this year’s global GDP.

There’s no doubt people still love to travel and will continue to seek new experiences in new places. But where will travelers come from, and where will they go? We developed a snapshot of current traveler flows, along with estimates for growth through 2030. For the purposes of this report, we have divided the world into four regions—the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East and Africa.

Our analysis identifies three major themes for industry stakeholders to consider:

  • The bulk of travel spending is close to home. Stakeholders should ensure they capture the full potential of domestic travel before shifting their focus to international travelers. And they should start with international travelers who visit nearby countries—as intraregional trips represent the largest travel segment after domestic trips.
  • Source markets are shifting. Although established source markets continue to anchor global travel, Eastern Europe, India, and Southeast Asia are all becoming fast-growing sources of outbound tourism.
  • The destinations of the future may not be the ones you imagine. Alongside enduring favorites, places that weren’t on many tourists’ maps are finding clever ways to lure international travelers and establish themselves as desirable destinations.

The bulk of travel spending is close to home

International travel might feel more glamorous, but tourism players should not forget that domestic travel still represents the bulk of the market, accounting for 75 percent of global travel spending (Exhibit 1). Domestic travel recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic faster than international travel, as is typical coming out of downturns. And although there has been a recent boom in “revenge travel,” with travelers prioritizing international trips that were delayed by the pandemic, a return to prepandemic norms, in which domestic travel represents 70 percent of spending, is expected by 2030.

Domestic travel still represents the bulk of the travel market, even as intraregional and interregional travel ramp up growth.

The United States is the world’s largest domestic travel market at $1 trillion in annual spending. Sixty-eight percent of all trips that start in the United States remain within its borders. Domestic demand has softened slightly, as American travelers return abroad.2 But tourism players with the right offerings are still thriving: five national parks broke attendance records in 2023 (including Joshua Tree National Park, which capitalized on growing interest from stargazers indulging in “dark sky” tourism3).

China’s $744 billion domestic travel market is currently the world’s second largest. Chinese travelers spent the pandemic learning to appreciate the diversity of experiences on offer within their own country. Even as borders open back up, Chinese travelers are staying close to home. And domestic destinations are benefiting: for example, Changchun (home to the Changchun Ice and Snow Festival) realized 160 percent year-on-year growth in visitors in 2023.4 In 2024, domestic travel during Lunar New Year exceeded prepandemic levels by 19 percent.

China’s domestic travel market is expected to grow 12 percent annually and overtake the United States’ to become the world’s largest by 2030. Hotel construction reflects this expectation: 30 percent of the global hotel construction pipeline is currently concentrated in China. The pipeline is heavily skewed toward luxury properties, with more than twice as many luxury hotels under construction in China as in the United States.

India, currently the world’s sixth-largest domestic travel market by spending, is another thriving area for domestic travel. With the subcontinent’s growing middle class powering travel spending growth of roughly 9 percent per year, India’s domestic market could overtake Japan’s and Mexico’s to become the world’s fourth largest by 2030. Domestic air passenger traffic in India is projected to double by 2030,5 boosted in part by a state-subsidized initiative that aims to connect underserved domestic airports.6

Exhibit 2
Intraregional travel is the second-largest opportunity, after domestic travel, and is growing. (1 of 2)
Intraregional travel is the second-largest opportunity, after domestic travel, and is growing. (2 of 2)

Recognizing this general trend, stakeholders have been funneling investment toward regional tourism destinations. An Emirati wealth fund, for instance, has announced its intent to invest roughly $35 billion into established hospitality properties and development opportunities in Egypt.7

Europe has long played host to a high share of intraregional travel. Seventy percent of its travelers’ international trips stay within the region. Europe’s most popular destinations for intraregional travelers are perennial warm-weather favorites—Spain (18 percent), Italy (10 percent), and France (8 percent)—with limited change to these preferences expected between now and 2030.

Despite longer travel distances between Asian countries, Asia’s intraregional travel market is beginning to resemble Europe’s. Intraregional travel currently accounts for about 60 percent of international trips in Asia—a share expected to climb to 64 percent by 2030. As in Europe in past decades, Asian intraregional travel is benefiting from diminishing visa barriers and the development of a low-cost, regional flight network.

Thailand is projected to enjoy continued, growing popularity with Asian travelers. Thailand waived visa requirements for Chinese tourists in 2023 and plans to do the same for Indian tourists starting in 2024. It has aggressively targeted the fast-growing Indian traveler segment, launching more than 50 marketing campaigns directed at Indians over the past decade. The investment may be paying off: Bangkok recently overtook Dubai as the most popular city destination for Indian tourists.8

A McKinsey ConsumerWise survey on consumer sentiment, conducted in February 2024, suggests that Chinese travelers are also exhibiting high interest in international travel, with 36 percent of survey respondents indicating that they intend to spend more on international travel in the next three months.9China brief: Consumers are spending again (outside of China),” McKinsey, April 8, 2024. Much of this interest is directed toward regional destinations such as Southeast Asia and Japan, with interest in travel to Europe down from previous years.10Outlook for China tourism 2023: Light at the end of the tunnel,” McKinsey, May 9, 2023.

Given travelers’ preference for proximity, how can tourism stakeholders further capitalize on domestic and intraregional travel demand? Here are a few strategies:

  • Craft offerings that encourage domestic tourists to rediscover local gems. Destinations, hotels, and transportation providers can encourage domestic tourists to integrate lesser-known cultural landmarks into their trips to visit friends and relatives. In France, the upscale hotel chain Relais & Châteaux markets historic properties that lie far from classic tourist sights—such as Château Saint-Jean in rural Auvergne—as a welcome escape from the bustle of Paris. In Mexico, the Pueblos Mágicos program has successfully boosted domestic tourist visits to a set of “magical towns” that showcase Mexican heritage.
  • Fold one-off domestic destinations into fuller itineraries. Route 66 in the United States is a classic road trip pathway, which spurs visits to attractions all along the highway’s length. Tourism stakeholders can collaborate to create similar types of domestic itineraries around the world. For instance, Mexico has expanded on its Pueblos Mágicos concept by branding coordinated visits to multiple villages as “magical routes.” In France, local tourism boards and vineyards have collaborated to promote bucket list “wine routes” around the country.
  • Make crossing borders into neighboring countries seamless. Removing logistical barriers to travel can nudge tourists to upgrade a one-off trip to a single attraction into a bucket list journey across multiple, less-trodden destinations. In Africa, for example, Ethiopian Airlines is facilitating cross-border travel to major regional tourist sites through improved air connectivity. In Asia, Thailand has announced its intent to create a joint visa easing travel among Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Source markets are shifting

The United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, and France remain the world’s five largest sources of travelers, in that order. These countries collectively accounted for 38 percent of international travel spending in 2023 and are expected to remain the top five source markets through 2030. But interest in travel is blossoming in other parts of the world—causing a shift in the balance of outbound travel flows (Exhibit 3).

New traveler populations are projected to become a growing share of global travel spending.

North Americans’ travel spending is projected to hold steady at roughly 3 percent annual growth. US consumers voice growing concerns about inflation, and the most cost-constrained traveler segments are reducing travel, which is affecting ultra-low-cost airlines and budget hotels. Most travelers, however, plan to continue traveling: McKinsey research suggests that American consumers rank international and domestic travel as their highest-priority areas for discretionary spending. Instead of canceling their trips, these consumers are adapting their behavior by traveling during off-peak periods or booking travel further in advance. Travel spending by Europeans paints a slightly rosier picture, with roughly 5 percent projected annual growth. Meanwhile, the projected 12 percent annual growth in Chinese travelers’ spending should anchor substantial increases in travel spending across Northeast Asia.

Alongside these enduring traveler segments, new groups of travelers are emerging. Eastern Europe, India, and Southeast Asia are still comparatively small source markets, but they are developing fast-growing pools of first-time tourists (Exhibit 4).

Rising source markets are adding new travelers to the global mix.

India’s breakneck GDP growth of 6 percent year over year is bolstering a new generation of travelers,11 resulting in a projected annual growth in travel spending of 9 percent between now and 2030. Indian air carriers and lodging companies are making substantial investments to meet projected demand. Budget airline IndiGo placed the largest aircraft order in commercial aviation history in 2023, when it pledged to buy 500 Airbus A320 planes12; that same week, Air India nearly equaled IndiGo’s order size with purchase agreements for 250 Airbus and 220 Boeing jets. IndiGo later added an order for 30 additional Airbus A350 planes, well suited to serving both domestic and international routes.13 The Indian Hotels Company Limited is ramping up its hotel pipeline, aiming to open two new hotels per month in the near future. International players are not sitting on the sidelines: seven hotel chains are launching new brands in India in 2024,14 including Marriott’s first Moxy- and Tribute-branded hotels in India and entrants from Hilton’s Curio and Tapestry brands.15 Development focus has shifted away from major metropolises such as Mumbai and Delhi and toward fast-developing, smaller cities such as Chandigarh and Hyderabad.

Southeast Asian travel spending is projected to grow at roughly 7 percent per year. Pockets of particularly high growth exist in Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. To capitalize on this blossoming source market, neighboring countries are rolling out attractive visa arrangements: for example, China has agreed to reciprocal visa waivers for short-term travelers from Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.16

Travel spending by Eastern Europeans is expected to grow at 7 percent per year until 2030—two percentage points higher than spending by Western Europeans. Areas of especially high growth include the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, where middle-class travelers are increasingly venturing farther afield. Major tourism players, including the TUI Group, have tapped into these new source markets by offering charter flights to warm-weather destinations such as Egypt.17

Although the number of travelers from these new source markets is growing, their purchasing power remains relatively limited. Compared with Western European travelers (who average $159 per night in total travel spending), South Asians spend 20 percent less, Eastern Europeans spend 40 percent less, and Southeast Asians spend 55 percent less. Only 3 percent of the current Asian hotel construction pipeline caters to economy travelers, suggesting a potential supply gap of rooms that could appeal to budget-constrained tourists.

While acknowledging that historical source markets will continue to constitute the bulk of travel spending, tourism players can consider actions such as these to capitalize on growing travel demand from newer markets:

  • Reduce obstacles to travel. Countries can look for ways to strategically invest in simplifying travel for visitors from growing source markets. In 2017, for example, Azerbaijan introduced express processing of electronic visas for Indian visitors; annual arrivals from India increased fivefold in two years. Requirements regarding passport photocopies or in-person check-ins can similarly be assessed with an eye toward reducing red tape for travelers.
  • Use culturally relevant marketing channels to reach new demographics. Unique, thoughtful marketing strategies can help destinations place themselves on first-time travelers’ bucket lists. For example, after the release of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, a popular Bollywood movie shot in Spain with support from the Spanish Ministry of Tourism, Indian tourism to Spain increased by 65 percent.18
  • Give new travelers the tech they expect. Travelers from newer source markets often have access to tech-forward travel offerings. For example, Indian travelers can travel anywhere within their country without physical identification, thanks to the Digi Yatra app. The Southeast Asian rideshare app Grab has several helpful travel features that competitors lack, such as automated menu translation and currency conversion. Tourism stakeholders should consider how to adapt to the tech expectations of newer travelers, integrating relevant offerings that ease journeys.
  • Create vibrant experiences tailored to different price points. Crafting lower-budget offerings for more cost-constrained travelers doesn’t need to result in giving them a subpar experience. Capsule hotels, in which guests sleep in small cubbies, began as a response to the high cost of accommodations in Japan, but they have become an attraction in their own right—appearing on many must-do lists.19

The places you’ll go: The destinations of the future may not be the ones you imagine

The world’s top ten destination countries (the United States, Spain, China, France, Saudi Arabia, Türkiye, Italy, Thailand, Japan, and India, in that order) currently receive 45 percent of all travel spending, including for domestic travel. But some new locales are gaining traction (Exhibit 5).

New travel destinations are gaining traction, while established favorites see continued demand.

A significant number of travelers are expanding their horizons, booking journeys to less visited countries that are near to old standbys. For instance, Laos and Malaysia, which both border Thailand—an established destination that is home to Bangkok, the world’s most visited city20—are up a respective 20 percent and 17 percent, respectively, in year-over-year international travel spending.

The world’s top ten destination countries currently receive 45 percent of all travel spending, including domestic-travel spending. But some new locales are gaining traction.

Several other countries that have crafted thoughtful tourism demand generation strategies—such as Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, and Vietnam—are also expected to reap benefits in the coming years. Vietnam logged a remarkable 40 percent increase in tourism spending in the five years before the pandemic. Postpandemic, it has rebounded in part by waiving visa requirements for European travelers (while indicating intent to offer similar exemptions in the future for Chinese and Indian travelers).21 The Philippines has made a concerted effort to shift its sun-and-beach branding toward a more well-rounded image, replacing its long-standing “It’s more fun in the Philippines” tourism slogan with “Love the Philippines.” Peru is highlighting less visited archeological sites while also marketing itself as a top-notch culinary destination through the promotion of Peruvian restaurants abroad. Rwanda is investing in infrastructure to become a major African transit hub, facilitated by Qatar Airways’ purchase of a 60 percent stake in the country’s major airport.22 Rwanda has also successfully capitalized on sustainable tourism: by charging $1,500 per gorilla trekking permit, for instance, it has maximized revenue while reducing environmental impact.

Tourism players might consider taking some of these actions to lure tourists to less familiar destinations:

  • Collaborate across the tourism ecosystem. Promotion is not solely the domain of destination marketing organizations. Accommodation, transportation, and experience providers can also play important roles. In Singapore, for instance, the luxury resort Marina Bay Sands partners extensively with Singapore Airlines and the Singapore Tourism Board to offer compelling tourism offerings. Past collaborations have included flight and stay packages built around culinary festivals.23
  • Use infrastructure linkage to promote new destinations. By extending route options, transportation providers can encourage visitors to create itineraries that combine familiar destinations with new attractions. In Asia, Thailand’s tourism authority has attempted to nudge visitors away from the most heavily trafficked parts of the country, such as Bangkok and Phuket, and toward less popular destinations.
  • Deploy social media to reach different demographics. Innovative social media campaigns can help put a destination on the map. Australia launched its “Ruby the kangaroo” campaign in China to coincide with the return of postpandemic air capacity between the two places. A video adapted for Chinese context (with appropriate gestures and a hashtag in Mandarin) garnered more than 20 million views in a single day on one of China’s largest social media platforms.24
  • Embrace unknown status. “Off the beaten path” messaging can appeal to widely traveled tourists seeking fresh experiences. Saudi Arabia’s “#WhereInTheWorld” campaign promoted the country’s tourist spots by acknowledging that they are less familiar to travelers, using a series of images that compared these spots with better-known destinations.

As tourism stakeholders look to the future, they can take steps to ensure that they continue to delight existing travelers while also embracing new ones. Domestic and intraregional tourism remain major opportunities—catering to local tourists’ preferences while building infrastructure that makes travel more seamless within a region could help capture them. Creative collaboration among tourism stakeholders can help put lesser-known destinations on the map. Travel tides are shifting. Expertly navigating these currents could yield rich rewards.

Explore a career with us