Johannesburg is set to be the most popular destination in Africa, with a projected 2.54 million international visitors expected to visit the city in 2013, according to the third annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index.

Despite a marginal 5.5% increase in the number of international visitors from 2012, Johannesburg’s substantial 53.6% growth in international visitors from 2009 to 2013 has propelled it into the Index’s top 20 fastest growing cities globally.

Johannesburg also comes out tops in Africa in terms of international visitor spending, with US$2.7 billion estimated to be injected into the city during 2013, a slight increase (1%) on 2012’s expenditure.

“For the first time in the Index’s three year history, Johannesburg occupies the number one rank in terms of expected international visitor arrivals in Africa,” says Philip Panaino, division president, MasterCard, South Africa. “Home to the continent’s busiest airport and the air transport hub of southern Africa, Johannesburg has grown from strength to strength,” he says.

The MasterCard Index of Global Destination Cities ranks cities in terms of the number of their total international visitor arrivals and the cross-border spending by these same visitors in the destination cities. It also gives visitor and passenger growth forecasts for 2013.

Thirteen African cities were ranked within 132 cities that were included in the Index. These included Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Cairo, Casablanca, Accra, Nairobi, Beira, Dakar, Kampala, Lagos, Maputo, and Tunis.

The top three cities from which most visitors to Johannesburg originate are London (299,000 people), Frankfurt (187,000 people), and Dubai (157,000 people), with all of these expected to grow in 2013. The number of visitors from London is expected to increase by 5.6%, followed by those from Frankfurt (4.5%), and Dubai (2.4%).

In more detail, Londoners are expected to spend US$482 million during 2013 (an average of US$1,612.04 per person), those from Frankfurt will spend approximately US$134 million (an average of US$716.58 per person), while Dubai visitors are projected to spend US$113 million (an average of US$719.75 per person).

“The Index also reveals the cities that people from Johannesburg are travelling to, and it was found that in most cases they are choosing African destinations,” says Panaino. “Four of the top five outbound destinations for Johannesburg travelers are within Africa. Maputo and Harare top the list; London comes in third, followed by Lagos and Windhoek.”

Looking at expected international visitors in the Index’s other African cities, Lagos occupies the number two position with 2.16 million visitors expected in 2013, while Cairo, with an anticipated 2.08 million international visitors, is third.

When it comes to visitor expenditure in the African destination cities, Cairo takes second place after Johannesburg, with the city expecting to attract US$1.7 billion. Tunis ranks third on the continent, with international visitors expected to spend US$1.1 billion in 2013.

Durban, while only ranked 12th in Africa, is the second fastest growing African city in 2013 – behind Dakar – in terms of international visitors, with a projected 26% growth in 2013. Cross-border spending is also expected to grow by nearly 22% – albeit off a low base. Interestingly, Air Mauritius has announced that it is reintroducing two direct weekly flights to Durban from July this year.

Conversely Cape Town, while ranked slightly higher than Durban in ninth position, is the only African city that is expected to see a decline in both inbound visitors (-8.5%) and expenditure (-13.5%). International visitor numbers are expected to decrease from 484,520 in 2012 to 443,131 in 2013, while cross border spending is forecasted to drop from US$527 million in 2012 to US$456 million this year.

The majority of international visitors expected to visit the Mother City and Durban are from Dubai, with a combined approximation of 173,000 visitors, who are expected to spend US$124.1 million in both these cities throughout the year.

Interestingly, the number of international visitors travelling from London to Cape Town is expected to decline by 16.8% this year, with just over 130,000 visitors forecasted to visit the city. Londoners will also reduce the amount that they will spend from US$267 million in 2012 to US$213 million this year – a 20.2% decline.

“The decrease in international visitors expected to visit Cape Town in 2013 could be attributed to the fact that South African Airways cancelled its direct route from London to Cape Town in August 2012, with passengers re-routed through Johannesburg,” says Panaino.

The world’s top destination cities

Bangkok is this year’s number one city for travel globally with 15.98 million international visitors expected to visit the city in 2013. While London reached the top spot in 2012, it was edged into second place in 2013 by Bangkok by a very slim margin with approximately 25,000 visitors separating the two – a difference of about 1%. Paris (13.92 million), Singapore (11.75 million), and New York (11.52 million) are the three remaining cities in the world’s top five destination cities in terms of international visitors.

In terms of visitor spending, New York has retained its top rank in the world in 2013 with an estimated US$18.59 billion, followed by London with US$16.32 billion. They are followed by Paris (US$14.60 billion), Bangkok (US$14.28 billion), Singapore (US$13.50 billion), and Tokyo (US$12.71 billion).

“Despite the persistent weakness of constrained demand in the global economy, international travel is growing strongly, and 132 of the world’s most important destination cities are benefiting. This is underscored by electronic payments, which are enabling more people from more places to participate in the global economy than ever before,” Panaino concluded.

This Index and the accompanying reports are not based on MasterCard volumes or transactional data.

Johannesburg Tourism Company is a founding member of the International Coalition of Tourism Partners (ICTP) .