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Architecture Updated: 09 Jul 2023

Cultural Tourism: a very profitable business

Almost 1.2 billion people – one out of every seven people in the planet – traveled abroad in 2015. And 37% of these international tourists chose their vacations based on the cultural offering of the country of destination: monuments, museums, festivals and folklore compete with the beaches and the sun over a business that moves billions of dollars every year.

Inphographics Cultural Tourism BBVA

Europe has always been one of the top destinations in the world for cultural tourism. Since the times of the Grand Tours of the British aristocracy in the 17th century, France, Italy and then Spain and the UK itself have remained of the first choices for those looking for cultural experiences when travelling.

Spain and France, Europe’s most visited countries

In 2015, over 600 million tourists visited the old continent, generating revenues totaling $448 billion, according to the World Tourism Organization data (WTO) Spain, with $57 billion and France ($46 billion) are the countries for which the business is more profitable.

And they are also two of the countries that benefit the most of cultural tourism, which, according to the statistics of the European Commission, is what draws four out of every ten travelers crossing the borders of the EU.

The Giaconda and Venus de Milo in the Louvre, the Sixteenth Chapel’s frescoes, the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum or the Garden of Earthly Delights and the Guernica are some of the masterpieces that thousands of tourists marvel at every day

Because top museums are, together with architectural landmarks, the main baits that attract cultural tourists. And Europe is home to 9 of the 20 most visited museums in the world, according to the Themed Entertainment Association’s ranking.

Infographic BBVA: most visited museums in the world

The Louvre in Paris, with 8.7 million visitors in 2015, tops the list that also includes the British Museum (fifth, with 6.8 million visits), and the Vatican Museums (seventh, with 6 million).

The two best ranked Spanish museums are in Madrid: Reina Sofia, with over 3.2 million visitors, and El Prado, with almost 2.7, which is expecting to boost its number of visitors by 10%, mainly due to the exhibition commemorating the "Bosch’s fifth centenary. Over 185,000 people have already visited this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition sponsored by the BBVA Foundation.

The Eiffel Tower, more valuable than Apple

The silhouettes of the Eiffel Tower, the Tower of London or the Sacred Family Cathedral in Barcelona have become icons for their home cities and top tourist attractions.

And, much like any other brand, these monuments have an economic value which has been estimated by the Monza and Brianza Chamber of Commerce.

At €434.66 billion, the Eiffel Tower, visited by more than six million tourists every year, stands as the most valuable all the building analyzed. This is not - by any means - a minor feat: Apple – the world’s most valuable brand – was priced at a bit over €135 billion by Forbes this year.

The Italian paper calculated the monetary value of the monuments based on their image, brand and aesthetic qualities, taking into account the results from other statistical studies and analyses. The ten economic and cultural parameter factored in included the building’s location, its international fame, the flow of visitors and the number of jobs that both the building itself and the tourism it attracts generate in the region where it is located.

Infographic BBVA: most valuable monuments

Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia — Barcelona’s most popular monument, with over three million visitors every year —, has a “reputational value" of €90.37 billion.  A bit under the Coliseum in Rome, valued at €91 billion. These two brands exceed the value that Forbes calculated for Go (€72.31 billion).

London, the most popular city

Although the Tower of London does not(€70.5 billion) is not nearly as valuable as the Eiffel Tower, the British capital is the most popular city for tourists in Europe, according to TripAdvisor’s annual survey and  MasterCard's Ranking, which values at 18.82 million the number of foreigners that visited the city in 2015.

Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Tate Modern, and the National Gallery  of the West End theaters are some of the highlights in a city to which cultural tourism brings some €3.8 billion every year, according to The Value of Cultural Tourism to London. Drawn up in 2015 on behalf of the City, the study also estimated the number of jobs that cultural tourism supports in London: 80,000.

While the impact of the Brexit remains yet to be seen, experts do point out that  63 % of the tourists that visited the UK in 2014 came from EU countries, and that the sector has benefitted in recent years from the free movement of goods, services, and people.

Infographic BBVA: value cultural turism to London

The list of the five-top cultural destinations is compounded by other four cities: Istanbul, with its mosques and bazaars, the red city of Marrakech, the omnipresent Paris and the royal city of Angkor, in Cambodia.

China and México, markets on the rise

America and Asia are two of the regions that have grown the most in terms of international tourism. China, apart from being the largest outbound market, is the fourth country top tourist destination behind France, the United States and Spain (according to WTO data from 2014).

Chinese museums are also highly popular among tourists:: The China’s National Museum in Beijing is the world’s second most popular, and attracted seven million visitors in 2015, while the Shanghai Science and Technology museum, with six million, came in in ninth position.

In America, Mexico has become one of the world’s ten favorite destinations for international travellers, with 32 million visitors in 2015.

One third of these tourists visited the archaeological sites in a country that is home to one of the most important Mayan Ruins in the planet, while 7.3 million foreign tourists visited at least one museum, according to the  Mexican Secretariat of Tourism (Sectur).