London calling: World's top travel spot

July 9, 2014: 6:58 PM ET
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

A foggy day in London town is quite all right for 18.7 million people.

That's how many will visit the British capital this year, making it the world's top international travel destination.

MasterCard, which compiles the list, says London will have 8% more overseas visitors this year. As a result, it will wrest the top spot from Bangkok, where political unrest will cut tourism by 11%. Paris and Singapore are the next two cities.

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Visitors give a big boost to local economies. International travelers will drop some serious coin in London -- spending more than $19 billion on hotels, meals, taxis and sightseeing. Only New York, where they will spend $18.6 billion, approaches that level.

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New York, which finished sixth among global destinations with 11.8 million visitors, was the only place in the United States to make the top 20 list, which covered 132 different international cities.

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Dubai, the hard charging city in the United Arab Emirates, flew past the Big Apple into fifth place with 12 million international visitors. It is a tourism magnet for the Arab world. Its seaside location is a big attraction with much of its Persian Gulf shoreline developed for water parks, yacht clubs and theme parks.

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The city, which has a population of about 2.2 million, will receive more than 4.8 visitors per resident, easily the highest ratio among the cities surveyed. And there's a huge economic benefit: Travelers will spend nearly $3,900 per resident.

Business travel to London's booming financial industry helped buoy the city's numbers. The visitor volume coming from New York grew strongly, up 15% year-over-year to 867,000. Many of these travelers work in the financial industry and as that industry recovers, the business travel from New York has grown.

Still, two-thirds of London's visitors arrive from other European cities.

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