Outbound travel experienced a significant year-on-year global increase in 2023, marking a major step towards pre-pandemic levels.

According to the IPK’s [one of the world’s leading tourism consultancies which specialises in tourism research, marketing and planning] World Travel Monitor, the total travel volume grew by 33% compared to 2022, falling just 12% short of 2019 figures. This positive trend was driven by the return of Asian travellers, whose outbound trips soared by over 140%.

Other regions also saw a surge, with Europe, North America and Latin America recording increases of 18%, 31% and 27% respectively.

The US remained the leading source market, followed by Germany and the UK, collectively accounting for one-third of global outbound travel.

Spain takes top spot while Dubai earns high marks

Spain maintained its international position as the most visited destination in 2023, attracting nearly 10% of all travellers.

But IPK’s Destination Performance Index ranked Dubai as the top destination based on traveller satisfaction, including factors such as recommendation likelihood and desire to return.

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Other high-rated destinations included the Maldives, South Africa, Abu Dhabi, Austria and Switzerland.

Vacation travel continued to gain traction, accounting for three-quarters of all outbound trips in 2023. Within this segment, sun and sand destinations and city breaks dominated, each holding roughly a third of the market share. Round trip travel came in third.

The market shares of these three categories have returned to pre-pandemic levels, suggesting traveller preferences haven’t drastically changed. Relaxation, sightseeing, good food and shopping were the key drivers for choosing vacation destinations.

Air travel reigns supreme though costs rise

Air travel remained the dominant mode of transport for international travel, accounting for more than 60% of outbound trips. When exploring their destination, most travellers opted for public transportation while one-fifth used rental cars.

Travel expenses rose significantly in 2023, primarily due to increased airfares, although the average trip duration remained stable at around nine nights.

Value for money emerged as a recurring theme, both positively and negatively impacting traveller sentiment. Other crucial factors included accommodation, food and beverage options and the local environment.

Recovery expected by end of 2024

While certain destinations and markets have already recovered to pre-pandemic levels, others are still catching up. Overcrowding remains a concern, with one-third of respondents feeling their destination had too many tourists.

Nevertheless, the overall outlook for 2024 is optimistic. Based on the World Travel Monitor’s latest forecasts, a full recovery is anticipated for nearly all markets and segments by the end of 2024.