Visualizing the twelve most visited countries in 2019

Remember travel before COVID-19? What was it like then? Top twelve arrivals in 2019 via heatmap

Mexico - Rank: 7United States - Rank: 3Spain - Rank: 2United Kingdom - Rank: 9France - Rank: 1Denmark - Rank: 11Germany - Rank: 10Italy - Rank: 5Turkey (Turkiye) - Rank: 6Thailand - Rank: 8China - Rank: 4Japan - Rank: 12

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the twelve most visited countries (by arrivals) in 2019 (before COVID-19) are the countries in the above heatmap.

The ligher the color, the more travelers arrived during a given month and vice-versa. The sorting of the heatmap could be less intuitive initially, but the idea was to get a rough idea of where and when people visit these most popular destinations by timezone / region (East --> West).

Right off the bat it is worth pointing out that France's figures might be a bit off. According to UNWTO where the data was sourced, France is number one for most arrivals in 2019 with almost ~91M arrivals. Unfortunately, the breakdown from each month reflects only about half of that total. One or the other or both figures could be wrong, but worth acknowledging.

Let us assume France did sit at around ~91M arrivals in 2019, one of the first thing I noticed graphically is how stark the constrast is between the bottom half of the twelve countries and the top half. Mexico, at rank 7 or ~45M annual arrivals is less than half of France and the difference only gets larger for the other countries ranked lower.

Cool, but why?

The inspiration behind the exercise was a desire to see if there are months you could consider visiting (although it is historic) where you might be competing with less visitors. A little off tangent, but much of the data is biased towards countries in the Northern Hemisphere. I suppose intuitively it makes sense because the vast majority of countries are in the Northern Hemisphere. Anyway, I started looking for pockets of seasonality hotspots. Most of the European countries on the list are summer hot spots. Japan, China, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States and Meixco on the other hand, all seem fairly consistent month over month though there are some slight peaks here and there.

If one really wanted to utilize some of this data of this for travel plans, it may be interesting to cross-referencce climate / weather data with the monthly data to see if there are months where there may not be as many visitors, but still have accomodating weather.

An example is say you want to visit Italy, but summer peak months are just way too crowded. You might prefer warmer weather or at least weather that's not cold so what are some considerations? Italy's arrivals peak in August, but year-round, they're getting at least ~3M arrivals per month. Only 4 months of the year have Italy's monthly visitors below ~4M per month and those are January, February, November and December. Looking at weather data on Italy, these four months definitely coincide with cooler weather; it is winter. That being said, Italy is very popular almost year-round. Unfortunately the tradeoff is either more arrivals for warmer average temperatures or cooler average temperatures for potentially less tourist competition.