Most-visited cities and most expensive cities. Outlook for commercial space travel. Remembering Philip Wagenaar

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the March 2019 issue.

Toes of the 46-meter-long reclining Buddha at Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, Thailand. The figure was built with bricks, shaped with plaster, then gilded.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 517th issue of your monthly foreign-travel magazine. This is our 43rd Anniversary issue! Thank you, all, for subscribing, telling others about the magazine, patronizing our advertisers, submitting articles and trip reports to print or just letting us know what you'd like to see. It all builds into the final product: International Travel News.

If you're reading ITN for the first time, having received a free sample copy, we hope you like what you see, which will be stories and reviews from world travelers about places outside of the US. To join the party, see page 9 and subscribe ($26 a year for the print and online editions or $15 for the online edition only). Soon you'll be telling us about YOUR latest trip.

If you're already a subscriber and have not yet sent us your list of countries visited in 2018, make a note to do that as soon as you're finished reading. ("Siri, remind me!") The deadline is the end of this month, March 31.

We collect these lists at the beginning of each year and use the info to not only attract new advertisers but to make editorial decisions on what to print. As a 'Thank you' for participating, we'll be gathering everyone's lists and holding drawings for prizes.

Email your list of the countries you visited in 2018 to editor@intltravel news.com or address a postcard or letter to Where Were You in 2018?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your mailing address (which will not be released to any other firm).

I'll announce the country-count results and the winners of the drawings in the June issue.

While you're at it, put on your thinking cap and send in a couple suggestions for new essay topics, perhaps incorporating alliteration, a rhyme or a pun. "Zeal for New Zealand" and "Greece is Great" are two that we've used, so choose destinations other than those or the following, which we've also covered: the Amazon, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Crete, China, Ghana, Italy, Israel, Kenya, Koblenz, London, Nice, Norway, Paris, Peru, Prague, Romania, Singapore, Stockholm, Sweden, Tasmania, Togo and Warsaw.

If we use your topic for an essay contest, we'll give you credit for coming up with it, but only the writer of the winning essay gets a prize.

When sending in your New Essay Topics suggestions (see addresses, above), please include your mailing address.

Since we've got place names on the brain, here's an item along those lines.

Which cities are frequented most by visitors, including tourists and businesspeople?

Each year, the financial services corporation Mastercard releases its Global Destination Cities Index, in which they announce the 50 cities that were the most visited in the previous year plus the total amount of money that each generated from visitors. (I last reported on this in July 2014.) For their 2018 index, which covered cities visited in 2017, they did something a bit different, also listing the average amount of money that each visitor spent per day.

To go through the rankings quickly, the 10 most-visited cities were, in descending order (starting with the most visited), Bangkok, London, Paris, Dubai, Singapore, New York, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Istanbul and Seoul.

However, in regard to daily expenditures by visitors, the top 10 cities were arranged much differently.

Of the 50 most-visited cities in 2017, the city in which visitors spent the most per day, which could be interpreted as the most expensive city, was Dubai, where visitors spent an average of $537 per person per day. It also was the city where the most money was spent in total by foreigners, having generated a whopping $29.7 billion in revenue.

Paris was the second-most expensive destination on the list, with a daily average of $301 spent per visitor, followed by Singapore ($287), Thailand's Phuket ($239) and Spain's Palma de Mallorca ($220).

Bangkok, 2017's most-visited city, gained $16.36 billion in revenue, which worked out to an average of $173 per person per day from its visitors.

Rounding out the 10 most expensive cities was Tokyo, where visitors spent an average of only $154 a day, one dollar more than the equally surprisingly "cheap" London ($153), which was followed by New York ($147) and, in Saudi Arabia, Mecca.

Mecca reaped the second-highest total in revenue, $18.45 billion, but, because so many people visited that pilgrimage site, the daily expenditure per person averaged only $135.

Of the cities on the 10-most-visited list, the one with the lowest cost per day was Istanbul. Its visitors each spent an average of $108 daily.

ITN has subscribers who have been EVERYWHERE, but I can think of one place I'll bet none have ever been.

On Dec. 13, a passenger craft designed by Virgin Galactic (www.virgingalactic.com), the privately owned company hoping to take passengers into space, made its first successful exit of the Earth's atmosphere with two test pilots. It was the first time any human being had entered space from US territory since the shuttle program was discontinued in 2011, and it was the first commercial passenger craft ever to do so.

Virgin Galactic's founder, Richard Branson, hopes to send the first-ever commercial space tourist (himself) into space later this year from the company's airfield in New Mexico, with actual space tourists to follow soon after. As of press time, 600 tickets, selling for $250,000 apiece, had already been sold.

However, if you're looking to see Earth from a new perspective — from its upper atmosphere — without spending quite that much money, there are a couple of other options.

• The aerospace company World View (Tuscon, AZ; 520/745-4445, www.worldview.space), which uses massive helium-filled balloons to conduct atmospheric experiments for organizations such as NASA, has designed and is testing the Voyager pod to be used for its space-tourism initiative.

Attached to a balloon, this pressurized pod, which seats six passengers, will be lifted to 105,600 feet in altitude, 20 miles up — about three times the cruising altitude of commercial airlines. After floating upward for two hours, the 540-foot-tall, partially inflated balloon will have expanded to more than 400 feet in diameter (larger than a football field), at which point the pod will be disengaged from it and descend to Earth suspended below an enormous parachute.

OK, so, technically, the pod will not be in space — since the Earth's atmosphere is not considered to come to an end until the Kármán line, 62 miles above sea level — but to passengers, who will see both the blue sphere of the Earth stretched out below them and the darkness of space above, this will seem like the splitting of hairs.

When the pod is at its highest point, the atmospheric pressure outside will be less than 0.162 pounds per square inch absolute (PSIA), with temperatures around -51°F. (In comparison, the atmospheric pressure at sea level is 14.696 PSIA.) Short of an astronaut or any of a small cadre of pilots, you will be hard-pressed to meet anyone who has gotten closer to space.

World View had planned to start balloon voyages in mid-2017 but was unable to do so. Currently, no date has been set for trips to begin. Nevertheless, the company is taking deposits on seats. It costs $7,500 to reserve a spot, and the total final cost will be $75,000.

• A Spanish company, zero2infinity, the name stylized as "0II∞" (www.zero2infinity.space/bloon), is designing a similar balloon pod, or, as they call it, a "Bloon," to take off from the fields of Spain. For the purposes of "space leisure and research," it would "enable future travelers to experience the overview effect and enjoy a trip of a lifetime to the stratosphere," a company representative told ITN.

As with World View's venture, Bloons are still in the testing phase, with no launch date set.

• But there is an even more ambitious space-tourism project under way. In early 2016, Moon Express (www.moonexpress.com) became the first private company "authorized" to go to the moon. (This authorization was granted by the US government. Under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, each country is liable, legally and financially, for all space activities originating from it.)

With the dual missions of exploration and mining, Moon Express hopes to create a cheap and effective way to recover minerals and other compounds from the moon.

In November 2017, the company's founder, Naveen Jain, described their first craft, which will simply orbit the Earth, as "definitely being launched in 2018." That launch still has not taken place, however, and, you guessed it, there is no timetable for the eventual launch.

Mr. Jain was optimistic (perhaps unrealistically) that his company could start moon tourism as early as 2027. What's more, he's certain that a ticket to the moon could cost as little as $10,000 per person, though I'm sure that does not include the cost of travel insurance.

Who knows?! With a little luck, in 30 years you may be reading a copy of Interplanetary Travel News.

A CORRECTION to note —

• This is a minor thing, but let's fix it. In the Travel Brief "Skyhour gift card" (Feb. '19, pg. 4), about a gift card for purchasing hours of travel on a selection of airlines, the correct way to write the URL is www.skyhour.com.

From Marla Tapper of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, we received the following kind note: "I sadly recently learned of the passing, on August 16, of Theodore 'Ted' Liebersfeld, a loyal fan of and contributor to ITN.

"Ted was a wonderful friend, a brilliant mathematician and an experienced traveler who introduced me to ITN. He had visited 102 countries and always generously shared great advice regarding travel destinations. Ted's magnificent travel photos were professional quality."

From his articles and letters in ITN, we knew Ted as "Theodore," and, from his frequent travels, he kept us busy. We printed five Features and five letters of his from May 2016 through 2018, with more in the hopper. Yes, his photos were always fascinating.

And there was another loss we had recently at ITN.

I want to take a moment to celebrate the life of longtime ITN Contributing Editor Philip Wagenaar, who died on December 30th, 2018, at the age of 94.

Philip's name first appeared in this magazine in a March 1995 Feature Article titled "Bicycling the Back Roads of Europe — Tips from 30,000-mile Veterans," which began, "For the past 10 years my wife and I have cycled in Europe every spring, covering a total of 30,000 miles. We select a different itinerary each year, average 50 miles a day and tour mainly on bicycle trails or back roads. We both are 69 years old and retired."

He followed that up the following month with one titled "Credit? Debit? Checks? Cash? Deciding your Money-conversion Strategy Overseas." Six months later, his column, "The Discerning Traveler," debuted in ITN with the article "Europe, the Telephone and Poor You," and the range of travel topics on which he wrote continued to expand, including pieces on health and medicine, since Philip was an M.D., as was his wife, Flory (who died in 2012).

Philip's column last ran in our January 2018 issue. He was meticulous in his writing and continued to surprise me with the wide range of topics on which he could teach.

In 2009, when I asked Philip for some information about himself that we could post on our website, he submitted his "curriculum vitae," adding, "Attached is the story of my life." I encourage you to read this gripping account of his early life in Amsterdam and his time in a concentration camp during World War II, including how he fooled and evaded the Germans, then met Flory and started a much happier life in Seattle, Washington. (Go to www.intltravelnews.com/columnists/philip-wagenaar.)

Thank you, Philip, for sharing your vast knowledge with all of us.