by Oliver Smith, The Telegraph, October 31, 2017
The world’s most welcoming city? According to a new ranking, it’s not free-spirited New Orleans, hip Berlin or sociable Stockholm, but a place where chewing gum is banned and eating or drinking on the metro can result in a hefty fine. It’s Singapore.
The Asian city state pipped the Swedish capital to the top spot not for its stringent rules but rather its safe environment, efficient and ultramodern airport and willingness to host tourists.
The ranking was published today by the holiday website TravelBird. It analysed the 500 biggest tourist destinations on the planet, according to the World Tourism Organisation, taking into account factors that can make a visitor feel welcome, such as a welcoming port of entry, the happiness of residents, safety and security, openness to host tourists, and English language proficiency. It then spoke to more than 15,000 travel journalists about their experiences, before crunching the numbers to produce a top 100.
The study was prompted by the anti-tourist backlash seen in some of Europe’s most popular cities this summer, such as Barcelona, where protesters slashed tyres on sightseeing buses and rental bikes in August, and Venice, whose locals often come out in force against the cruise ships that tower over its ancient palazzi.
Those cities deemed to suffer from over-tourism were marked down, so it will be of little surprise to learn that neither the Catalan capital, nor La Serenissima, made the top 10. They came 78th and 77th, respectively.
Singapore’s number one ranking shouldn’t come as a shock either, says Evelyn Chen, author of Telegraph Travel’s expert guide and a resident of the city. “It really is one of the world’s most welcoming cities,” she said. “You feel it the moment you arrive at the Changi Airport where the queues to get through immigration are usually short.”
Changi, which boasts a butterfly garden, two free 24-hour cinemas and a rooftop pool, has been named the world’s best airport for five consecutive years.
“I think it helps that English is our first language and it just makes communication between tourists and the locals much easier,” Chen added. “Except for the occasional jam and MRT breakdown, transport is generally smooth. Sometimes Singaporeans do complain a bit - who doesn’t? - but on the whole, we are a happy lot.”
Completing the top five was Helsinki, San Francisco and Rotterdam. Lisbon, Tokyo, Oslo, Zurich and Orlando made the top 10.
And what of London? Our fair capital, where tourists foolish enough to cross the paths of residents with their wheelie suitcases or block the left hand side of the escalator can expect to be bombarded with passive-aggressive tutting, actually fared pretty well. It came 29th, just ahead of Glasgow (31st) and Edinburgh (33rd). Dublin (13th) performed as well as one would expect, given its reputation for a warm welcome.
Down in the lower reaches of the top 100 (TravelBird hasn’t issued the full ranking of all 500 cities) are the likes of Moscow, Bucharest, Cairo and Nairobi.
Interestingly, Singapore achieved a total score of 8.22, earning 10 for port of entry and 8.95 for safety, but the travel journalists only gave it 7.9, the 26th highest score. According to them, the five most welcoming cities are actually Copenhagen, Lisbon, Oslo, Stockholm and Phuket – while London plummets to 55th.