Research article

International Business Visitors

Cities that are successful in attracting a large number of tourists are often equally as capable of attracting talent to live and work there

Figure 1

FIGURE 1International overnight visitors

Source: MasterCard, Savills World Research

It’s easy to assume that the attraction of global cities is all the history, buildings, culture, entertainment, lifestyle and leisure that they offer, and that it is tourists who make up most of their visitors. On average, 77% of international visitors to the cities in this report are there for leisure, tourism and reasons other than business, such as meeting up with friends and relatives.

What this means may be a little more complex than it appears at first glance. We often find that the cities that are the most successful at attracting business are also those that are the most effective at attracting human beings, full stop. Because human talent is so valuable to modern industries, particularly the creative, tech and advanced financial sectors, cities that are able to attract human capital have a distinctive business edge over those that are not. This ability is likely to be reflected in tourist numbers, as well as investors and workers flocking to the city (see fig. 1).

It is becoming harder in some of the hippest city locations to distinguish between workspace, leisure space and hospitality, or even residential space as the co-working, co-living, blended lifestyle of generation Y blurs traditional distinctions. In the same way, it is becoming difficult to distinguish between all the reasons for visiting a city. Even the most conservative executive would find it difficult not to take a walk and have a peek at just a few of the cultural and other attractions available in world cities – even if they are there on business. It is likely they will be shown some of them by business hosts.

Even more difficult to distinguish is the visit that might combine conventional business with private investments, shopping, leisure activities, educational activities and socialising.

The size of the international business visitor market in a city can be seen as just one indicator of how globally connected its economy is. Visitor numbers can be a good indicator of how attractive the city is likely to be to investors and businesses seeking to locate there. The city with the largest annual number of international business visitors is Paris (5.4 million), followed by London (4.2 million).

Shanghai has a large percentage of international business visitors (55%) as it is not a prominent international leisure destination, especially compared to cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sydney, which have a large proportion of tourists and other types of visitor seeking sunshine and lifestyle experiences. International visitors total just 400,000 and 300,000 in Sydney and Rio respectively.

For some cities, like New York, a low proportion of international overnight business visitors may indicate that there are a high proportion of domestic business visitors connected globally through other international hubs in the same country.

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