The World Economic Forum has developed its Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index, an analysis of 124 countries and their potential for developing travel and tourism. ";This sector [travel and tourism] is such a valuable driver of economic prosperity around the world," said Jennifer Blanke, senior economist of the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Network. The study is not just a ranking of nations with pretty scenery. A total of 13 factors and policies were measured, including safety and security, transportation infrastructure, price competitiveness, national tourism perception, health and hygiene, natural and cultural resources and human capital.
Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index score: 5.66
Rich in cultural and natural resources, Switzerland ranked highly not only for its natural attributes, but also its transportation infrastructure, protected land and tourism support from the Swiss government. Outdoor enthusiasts travel here to ski, hike and climb the Alps each year, as well. ";Because this is a wealthy country, its one clear weakness is price competitiveness — everything is expensive," said Blanke. Indeed. In Geneva, Switzerland's capital, shopping is abundant, especially for tourists in search of some high-end Swiss watches. Patek Philippe, Swatch and Piaget all have shops there, and the upscale Globus Department Store is located in the center of Geneva's shopping district, surrounded by designer shops such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior.
TTCI score: 5.54
";Austria's tourism-specific infrastructure is rated as the best in the world, ahead of Germany," noted the study. The Alpine country also rates well regarding safety and security and environmental regulations, and has a very low crime rate. Vienna is home to the popular shopping street Mariahilfer Strasse, but fashionistas favor the Neubaugasse area — home to the flagships of the G-Star and Swedish WeSC brands, along with the PARK concept store. PARK features fashions from European designers such as Hussein Chalayan and Raf Simons. Mozart's birthplace, Salzburg (left), is rich in music, art and architecture — the city also served as the setting for Robert Wise's 1965 classic, ";The Sound of Music."
TTCI score: 5.48The country holds one of the top spots in terms of natural and cultural resources, thanks to large national parks and areas, several World Heritage sites (such as Wartburg Castle and Cologne Cathedral, seen left), not to mention the cities of Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. Quality of transportation infrastructure, particularly ground transport, is high, as well. According to the German National Tourist Board, ";Germany has a huge range of different places to shop, from the traditional atmosphere of its town centers to more than 400 shopping malls, each like a world of its own." Fashion brands such as Jil Sander, Hugo Boss, Joop, Puma and Adidas are headquartered here, while car makers such as Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche have helped put this country on the map, as well.
TTCI score: 5.45
";This country surprised us at first, as well," said Blanke, ";But there's a huge spa culture developing." For example, the Nordica Spa is located in the newly renovated Nordica Hotel in Reykjavik, Iceland's capital. The spa offers Scandinavian-style soothing treatments and relaxation therapies. The Blue Lagoon spa in Grindavik (left) is undergoing a major redesign and expansion, to accommodate growing demand. Blanke added, ";People of course travel here to witness the natural beauty — there are natural geysers everywhere. It's a very unusual destination in terms of the landscape." In addition to these features, the country's government heavily supports the development of the travel and tourism industries, and Iceland has an excellent transportation infrastructure and a well-educated workforce.
TTCI score: 5.43
With a large number of World Heritage sites (20 in all) — including Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty — as well as the percentage of protected land area, America remains an attractive destination for tourists from all over the globe. ";The country also has an excellent infrastructure and business environment for travel and tourism, and it has the most well-developed air transport infrastructure in the world, by a significant margin," noted the study. Shopping enthusiasts have an abundance of options, from the designer favorites of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles (left), Madison Avenue in New York and Michigan Avenue in Chicago, to the Mall of America and Macy's Herald Square.HONG KONG
TTCI score: 5.33
In February, WWD reported that general tourist spending in Hong Kong in 2005 accounted for 36 percent of total retail sales, and that the average overnight visitor spent 4,554 Hong Kong dollars, or $582 at current exchange, 53 percent of which went toward shopping, followed by hotel bills, at 22 percent, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board. The Landmark, Prince's Building and the IFC mall are main shopping destinations, with designer stores throughout. The study noted that, within Asia, Hong Kong is the highest-ranked country. Both air and ground transportation received high marks, as did human resources — the region overall boasts a well-educated workforce. ";Hong Kong is unsurpassed with regards to the high quality of health and hygiene of its people," said the report.
TTCI score: 5.31
The vast country spans some of the world's most beautiful terrain, but some of the most vibrant cities, as well. Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver (left) and Ottawa are well known for attracting tourists. As for shopping, Toronto has the Eaton Centre, which features H&M, Pottery Barn and BCBG Max Azria, and Montreal's Holt Renfrew — the area's most upscale department store — houses such designer brands as Lanvin, Catherine Malandrino and Burberry. According to The Greater Vancouver Visitors and Convention Bureau, Robson Street is that city's leading shopping area — it's ";high fashion mixed with souvenir shops, music stores, beauty products and book stores," the Web site states. And, of course, Wal-Mart Canada said in November that it plans to launch 17 Supercenters in the country by the end of this year.
TTCI score: 5.31
Singapore has become ";one of the world's most prosperous countries with strong international trading links (its port is one of the world's busiest in terms of tonnage handled)," according to the CIA World Factbook. The country is ranked second in the Forum's study regarding the overall prioritization of travel and tourism, and it is among the safest countries in terms of crime and security issues. As for retail expansion, Tiffany & Co. plans to open a location at Singapore's Changi airport this year, and WWD reported in February that Bottega Veneta also has sights on a new boutique here, joining a slew of other designer brands already in the country.LUXEMBOURG
TTCI score: 5.31
This tiny, picturesque country is about half the size of Delaware and is wedged between Belgium, Germany and France. World Travel Guide states, ";Luxembourg owes its continued existence to a mixture of good fortune and good diplomacy, which have prevented it from being permanently absorbed into the territories of its larger neighbors." In addition to historical sites such as Palace of the Grand Dukes (Palais Grand-Ducal) and Citadel of the Holy Spirit (Citadelle du St-Esprit), tourists are known for traveling here to visit the Moselle Valley (famous for its wines) and to admire the landscape, which consists mainly of rolling farmlands and forested terrain. Tourists can enjoy upscale amenities at Hotel Sofitel Europe, Hotel Le Royal and the Grand Hotel Cravat, all located in the capital of Luxembourg City (left).
TTCI score: 5.28
Whether it's the pubs of Northern Ireland, the castles of Edinburgh or the Thames of London (left), the U.K. has something for everyone, which explains why an estimated 27 million tourists are drawn to the region each year. Visitors flock to its spectacular architectural structures (Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Stonehenge). And the country has undergone a boom in retailing, as well — Apple's first retail store in Europe opened on Regent Street in London in November 2004 and, in March, Abercrombie & Fitch opened its first international flagship on Savile Row. Earlier this year, Gap Europe announced it was bringing Banana Republic to Europe and would open the first location on Regent Street in 2008, while H&M unveiled its new format Collection of Style on the street in March.