The travel sector in 2024 is breaking boundaries. This year consumer spending on travel is robust with significant increases in passenger traffic, according to the latest global report from the Mastercard Economics Institute.

Despite fluctuating exchange rates and varying levels of affordability, the desire to travel remains stronger than ever.

From South Africa, the top five trending destinations to escape the winter are Dubai, Mauritius, Istanbul, Frankfurt, and Nairobi.

Cape Town is among the top three trending destinations from Saudi Arabia.

Globally, Japan (1), Ireland (2) and the UAE (9) are among the global frontrunners for top trending destinations in the last 12 months . Looking forward however, Munich ranks as the top trending destination for the next three months (June-August 2024), given the European Championship action.

In 2024 the travel sector is flourishing, with nine out of the last 10 record-setting spending days in the global cruise and airline industry occurring this year.

“The travel sector in Africa is recovering well, complemented by an appetite to discover destinations that offer nature, culture, and authentic experiences. It’s great to see travelers extend their stays, and also use more digital payments, both of which are very positive for the tourism industry at large, as well as local governments building diversified economies,” says Natalia Lechmanova, chief economist EEMEA at Mastercard Economics Institute.

In addition, growing digitalisation is driving greater convenience for tourists visiting sub-Saharan Africa.

The fast growth in adopting digital payments has also meant a lower reliance on cash in the region, resulting in shifts in spending patterns within tourism.

According to Mastercard Economics Institute estimates, the percentage of tourism cash volumes (measured by ATM withdrawals as a proportion of card spend) made by tourists while visiting sub-Saharan Africa dropped to the lowest point on record in 2024 – about 10 percentage points lower compared to 2019.

While, domestically, most digital payments across the region are made through mobile money payments, travelers rely on their cards to make payments in the region more than ever before.

Drawing on an analysis of aggregated and anonymized transaction data, including Mastercard SpendingPulse, and third-party data sources, the report takes a deep dive into key travel trends globally for the year and beyond, including:

* Record-breaking travel – International tourist arrivals to Africa have exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time in the first quarter of 2024. During the first quarter of South Africa welcomed 2,4-million visitors from the rest of the world, representing a 15,4% increase compared to the same period in 2023. Mauritius recorded a 16% increase over the same period. In 2023, tourist arrivals to Tanzania increased by 24,3% to a record-breaking 1 808 205.

* Leisure for longer – Travelers to South Africa are extending their trips by almost two extra days (from 7,8 to 10,6 days) compared to pre-pandemic. The global average is one extra day, a trend driven by warmer climates and affordable destinations. The Mastercard Economics Institute found a clear inverse relationship between the price of the destination and the incremental number of days tourists spend while in those destinations. In other words, the cheaper the destination, the longer the stay.

* Experience economy on the go – Consumers have prioritized meaningful experiences over material goods, even when traveling. Spending on experiences now totals 12% of tourism sales, according to SpendingPulse Destinations which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment – the highest point in at least five years as of March 2024. Memorable events are driving travel trends, whether it is for concerts (like Taylor Swift shows) or sporting events (like the Cricket World Cup).