Australia is the overall winner in this year’s FDI Strategy category in fDi's Tourism Locations of the Future 2019/20 rankings. Tourism has been an investment priority for the country since May 2012, following a partnership agreement between Tourism Australia and the Australian Trade and Investment Commission. Since its inception, this partnership has facilitated 21 projects, with hotel components valued at more than A$2.56bn ($1.75bn).


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Australia is the number one tourism market in the world for spend per visitor, and is fast becoming a major destination for tourism infrastructure investment. In 2011, the Australian government launched its Tourism 2020 initiative, which aimed to increase the industry’s overnight visitor expenditure from A$70bn in 2009 to more than A$115bn by 2020. It has since surpassed this figure to reach a record A$118.9bn, by reducing red tape and coordinating marketing campaigns to drive demand.

Costa Rica, which is second in this year’s ranking, impressed judges with its wealth of natural resources, sustainability practices and training schemes. Investment Promotion Agency Costa Rica (Cinde) has a systematic approach to FDI attraction, and uses fDi Benchmark and fDi Markets, Gazelle, Incentives Monitor, S&P Capital IQ, IBIS World and the Economist Intelligence Unit to profile potential investing companies. Cinde also leverages social networking tools such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator to reach out to investors.

Azerbaijan is in third place. As part of the government’s economic development policy, tourism was deemed a priority sector and various initiatives were implemented to increase its competitiveness including visa reforms, overturning the licence requirement for tourism industry entities, and devaluing its local currency. The State Tourism Agency was also established in 2018. As a result, the country is experiencing unprecedented growth in the sector, including a 12.7% rise in the share of tourism services in exports in 2018. 

Specialism awards

Activity tourism


Azerbaijan offers a wide range of activities for holidaymakers including mountain biking, skiing, paragliding and ziplining.

Visitors to Costa Rica can enjoy horseback riding, white-water rafting and skydiving. Other popular activities include visiting Monteverde’s suspension bridges and riding an aerial tram through the rainforest.

Academic tourism

Kharkiv, Ukraine, is home to more than 300,000 students. It hosts international conferences and supports the development of hi-tech industries, reinforcing its position as an intellectual centre and hotbed for science and innovation. 

Cultural/heritage tourism

Ethno-villages offer an alternative to the main towns of the Herzegovina region in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Tourists can stay in traditional stone houses, visit the local tavern and buy traditional products such as homemade honey, freshly ground flour, herbs and homemade liqueurs.

Lithuania’s second largest city, Kaunas, is preparing for its role as a European Capital of Culture in 2022, which it will use to highlight its contemporary culture, community spirit and local talent.

Turkestan, Kazakhstan, was named the Cultural Capital of the Turkic World in 2017 and hosted the summit of the International Organization of Turkic Culture. The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, one of Kazakhstan’s most significant monuments and an important pilgrimage site, was recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site in 2003. 

Zvërnec in Albania is home to the monastery of Saint Mary, a medieval Byzantine church. 

Cruise and yacht tourism

Grenada’s cruise and yacht market experienced notable growth in 2018. The country received 342,826 cruise and 24,944 yacht passenger arrivals in 2018 – a respective increase of 14.5% and 18.8% on 2017. 

The Seychelles Port Authority is currently in the process of extending Port Victoria to facilitate its growing cruise tourism market. 


In 2019, 42 million visitors to regional Australia engaged in nature and wildlife tourism activities. The country is home to 20 Unesco World Heritage-listed attractions, including the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru, as well as thousands of national parks. 

Dominica, also known as the Nature Island, attracts eco-tourists with its lush rainforests, mountains, waterfalls and volcanoes and offers various eco-lodges and resorts to accommodate visitors.

Eco-tourism is a strong potential market for Grace Bay in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The North and Middle Caicos islands are ready for sustainable development activities, including planned marina development.

Iceland’s mid-Atlantic location, well-preserved nature, advanced infrastructure, 100% renewable energy and abundance of geothermal resources make it an attractive location for eco-tourists.

In the Seychelles, the government works to maintain protected areas including nature reserves and national parks. As part of the marine spatial plan, 30% of the Seychelles’ exclusive economic zone will be designated as marine protected areas.


According to Macau’s Statistics and Census Bureau, in 2017 the proportion of foreign capital in gaming accounted for 68.2% of the total equity capital of enterprises with inward direct investment. 

Gastronomic tourism

Wine making in Azerbaijan dates to the second millennium BC. Following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, there were several initiatives to redevelop the industry, leading to rapid growth over the past decade. Tourists can visit local vineyards, attend wine-tasting and go on 'wine crawls'. 

High-end tourism

To attract high-net-worth tourists, Grace Bay in the Turks and Caicos Islands is focusing on providing high-end living standards, including a state-of-the-art communication system and electrical infrastructure that can recover in record time after major disasters. There are more than 150 flights from Providenciales International Airport a week, with access to major hubs and cities.

Medical tourism

Medical tourism is an up-and-coming market in Cyprus, thanks to its modern private hospitals and clinics with state-of-the-art equipment, and highly qualified doctors and medical staff. The island offers a one-stop service from treatment to recuperation.

Lebanon is a leading destination for medical tourism in the Middle East, with 13,500 highly trained physicians. Upcoming projects in Beirut include medical tourism facilities (including a specialised hospital for neurosurgery) and wellness centres.

Meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE)

Costa Rica's $35m Convention Centre was built in 2018 to boost the country’s competitiveness as a global business tourism destination. Located 8 kilometres from Juan Santamaría International Airport and 10 kilometres from central San José, the 15,600-square-metre building can host major conventions and social events. 

According to recent statistic research, 74% of tourists to Kharkiv, Ukraine, visited the city for business purposes. Kharkiv’s developed infrastructure, including a modern airport, railways and highways, ensures the city can host a wide variety of events and festivals. In addition, its considerable scientific and industrial potential make it a key market for business tourism.

MICE tourism is also a growing market in Valle del Cauca, Colombia, thanks to its favourable weather conditions, infrastructure, cultural offering, excellent air and ground connectivity and impressive venues.

Regional tourism

Tourism to regional Australia is on the up, with visitors increasing by 5.6% on average per year over the past five years. 

Sports tourism

In 2019, Cyprus, in co-operation with Lebanon, Greece, Egypt, Bulgaria and Portugal, founded the International Sports and Tourism Organisation to promote peace and prosperity through sports and tourism. It hosted 189 sports teams and 4500 athletes in 2018, resulting in 40,000 overnight stays.

Several international attendance records have been broken at Kaunas’s Žalgiris Arena, which can accommodate as many as 15,550 spectators. The arena was expanded in early 2019 to include an Olympic-standard swimming pool, spa zone and sports rehabilitation clinic.  

Wellness tourism

According to the Global Wellness Economy Monitor, Australia is one of the Asia-Pacific region’s top five wellness tourism markets. Wellness destinations including Byron Bay in New South Wales and Daylesford in Victoria, which offer health-conscious visitors a host of activities. 

With its rich natural resources ranging from thermal springs to mud volcanoes, Azerbaijan is a well-known healing centre of the Caspian and Caucasus region. Special development projects are currently under way in Naftalan, a resort town named after a rare type of oil traditionally used to cure different ailments. 

Wellness tourism is a key sector for Dominica, where services such as holistic massage, yoga, chiropractic care, coaching, pilates, fitness and a range of spa facilities are on offer together with natural products and herbs.

Iceland is well known for its geothermal water, clean air and pure food products. Geothermal destinations are some of the country’s most popular tourist attractions and include the Blue Lagoon and Vök Baths.

Bespoke awards

Administrative reforms

After systematically analysing regulations in more than 40 areas, an annual set of measures was adopted in Croatia to reduce costs and unnecessary administrative procedures. This year, 314 measures were foreseen, which will save about €84m.

Climate resilient strategy

The Dominica government aims to make the island the world’s first climate-resilient country through the types of investment it seeks to attract, and by making existing tourism investments more robust.


Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela, Costa Rica, is undergoing a $100m expansion, and since 2018 has offered more than 400 weekly flights to locations across Europe and the Americas. 

The €5.8bn Rail Baltica project will connect Kaunas, Lithuania – primarily with Poland and ultimately with the rest of Europe – allowing visitors to commute at 249 kilometres per hour. 

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Palasë in Albania has been commended for its CSR efforts. Local development agency Auleda is working to attract strong businesses to increase its Guaranty Fund, which is focused on start-ups from young professionals, people from disadvantaged groups and women.

Economic impact

Between 2015 and 2018, Azerbaijan recorded 51.4% in nominal growth in the share of tourism-related industry sectors in the country’s GDP. 

Since 2013, the tourism sector in Colombia has experienced an income increase of 35.7%, going from $4.7bn to $6.6bn in 2018. 

The tourism sector is considered the backbone of Cyprus’s economy, breaking historic records in both arrivals and revenue for the past four years. 

In 2018, Grenada achieved a historic milestone, welcoming more than 500,000 visitors to its Caribbean shores. 

In Lebanon, the total contribution of the tourism sector, both direct and indirect, was estimated at a respective $10.4bn or 19.1% of GDP in 2018, which is the second highest ratio in the Middle East. 

In terms of tourism value added (TVA) being used as a measure of the direct contribution of tourism activities to the local economy, the share of TVA in total gross value added of all industries of Macau rose, going up by 1.7% from 46.7% in 2015 to 48.4% in 2017.

The Seychelles recorded $563.9m in total tourism earnings by the end of 2018, an increase of 14.3% compared with 2017’s earnings of $483.3m.

Education and training

Existing tourism vocational schools in Azerbaijan are being upgraded. In addition, a new tourism education facility is set to open.

In Costa Rica, IPA Cinde works closely with academia and the local ecosystem to develop talent. The agency develops working groups and forums to identify gaps in the market, helps foster academic alliances between local and international universities, and drives the creation of custom training programmes.

In recent years, a worker retraining centre was established in Herzegovina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, to train chefs, waiters, tour guides and project managers. 

Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism has established the Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation to upgrade workers’ skills, provide international certification for existing competencies and foster innovation in the sector.

The Macau Government Tourism Organisation collaborates with training institutes and tourism entities to bolster opportunities for local sectors, especially in hospitality, catering and business tourism.

Hidden gems

Plans are ongoing to position Herzegovina as a top European tourist destination. These include the construction of new hotels and hostels, increased promotion abroad, improved railway and highway infrastructure and new airline routes. 

Palasë plans to foster its eco-tourism potential as well as that of its adventure and cultural tourism. Located in the middle of Albania’s Narta Lagoon, Zvërnec is a growing eco-tourism destination and boasts rich biodiversity. 

Hotels development and investment 

European investment giant AXA acquired a portfolio of four Accor hotels in Australia, including three in Sydney's Olympic Park, for A$330.4m from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

In the past five years, 15 world-renowned hotel chains have invested in Colombia; 82 hotels are set to open between 2019 and 2020, providing more than 11,000 rooms.

Panama-based Selina opened two new hotels in Nosara and Monteverde, Costa Rica, in February 2019. The company now has 10 locations across the country. 

According to data by the Croatia National Bank, FDI in accommodation was about €58m in 2018; 10% more than the previous year.

Based on current hotel developments, an 18% increase in the total number of beds is anticipated across Cyprus, which includes a new casino resort project that is expected to contribute an additional 1000 rooms by 2021. 

The most significant foreign investments made in Dominica during the past year were hotel properties, partly financed by funds from the Citizenship by Investment programme. These include Tranquility Beach, part of the Hilton Curio Collection, and Anichi Resort & Spa, part of the Marriot Autograph Collection.

Within the past year, it was announced that two new five-star resorts will open in Grenada; the Silver Sands Resort and Six Senses hotel.

Several global hotel chains are coming to Kaunas, Lithuania, including a 175-room, three-star Moxy by Marriott Group hotel, and a four-star Hilton hotel that will feature about 210 rooms and a conference centre.

The number of hotels in Macau is on the rise, from 103 in 2013 to 124 in July 2019. There was also a considerable increase in the number of overnight hotel guests, from 10.7 million in 2014 to 14.1 million in 2018. 

Most of the tourism capital investment in Valle del Cauca, Colombia, currently focuses on hotel infrastructure, especially in Cali. Recent investors including Marriott, NH Hotels, Ibis, Spiwak and Spirito. 

Improved access

In 2016, a visa-on-arrival procedure was introduced in Azerbaijan for a defined list of countries, and in 2018, an e-visa regime applicable to more than 80 countries was established. 

Abolishing the visa regime for many countries has led to an increased influx of new visitors to Herzegovina from China, the US, Canada and Arab countries.


Australia’s Tourism Major Project Facilitation service provides proponents with a central government contact person to help guide them through government approvals processes.

Azerbaijan’s Investment Promotion Document envisages discounts in tax payments and customs duties for imported goods.

A special rate of 9% has been established for hotels, theme parks, agritourism, ecotourism and dock projects in Colombia

Companies investing in tourism infrastructure in Costa Rica can apply for both fiscal and non-fiscal incentives. General incentives include ICT training, accessing up-to-date market behaviour information, and marketing through

Croatia offers a supportive entrepreneurial framework, offering financial support through various incentives, grants, subsidised loans and government guarantees.

Dominica offers incentives for investors including a tax holiday on profits for up to 20 years and a waiver on import duties on building materials, furniture and fittings for tourism investments.

Grenada offers incentives that include an investment allowance, tax credit for training and customs duties exemptions.

Herzegovina offers investors low tax rates of VAT (17%), profit tax (10%) and income tax (10%). Bosnia-Herzegovina has the lowest such rates in Europe.

Iceland focuses on a favourable environment for businesses in general, including low corporate tax, availability of land and efficiency in a European legislative framework.

Investors in Jamaica can enjoy several benefits, including product input relief, capital allowance and employee tax credit.

Incentives for greenfield FDI in the tourism industry in Lebanon include 100% exemption from corporate income taxes for up to 10 years and a reduction of up to 50% on construction permit fees.

Investors in Macau can apply for tourism incentives through the Macau Government Tourism Office and successful applicants may receive tax exemption benefits including property and income tax. 

Business owners in the Seychelles across various industries (including hoteliers and restaurateurs) pay 0% of taxes on the first SRs250,000 ($18,188) of their taxable income; and 15% on the remainder.

The Puerto Rico Department of Commerce incentives include a 4% corporate tax rate and 100% exemption on property taxes.

Infrastructure upgrades

Azerbaijan has undertaken numerous projects aimed at improving infrastructure throughout the country, including new airports, railroads, highways, visitor accommodation facilities and attractions. 

An ambitious construction programme for transportation networks was launched in Cape Verde, which saw the government allocate an average of $147m per year to infrastructure.

In Macau, the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in October 2018 has enhanced transport and economic connection between the urban agglomerations.

Several infrastructure projects are under way in Turkestan, Kazakhstan, including construction of an airport, reconstruction of the roads and the establishment of the International Hospitality and Tourism Management College.

Mega investment

Herzegovina has been commended for its mega-investment luxury water park. Part of the City of the Sun complex, the €100m attraction spans 79,000 square metres. Once completed, the complex will employ 2000 people and have a capacity of 20,000 visitors a day.

Overcoming seasonality

One of the main goals of Croatia’s Tourism Development Strategy and Strategic Marketing Plan is to tackle high seasonality in summer by promoting its natural and cultural heritage, wellbeing facilities and medical services.   

Punching above its weight 

Kaunas in Lithuania saw annual tourism increases of 19% in 2016; 12% in 2017; 8.2% in 2018 and 11% by mid-2019.

Rapid growers

Tourism is one of Australia’s fastest growing industries. In 2017-18, tourism GDP grew at 5% in real terms, almost double the average growth rate of 2.8% reported for the wider economy.

Azerbaijan’s tourism sector recorded unprecedented growth of 2.1%, 6.9% and 7.6% growth, respectively, in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Colombia’s tourism sector has undergone significant growth, becoming the country’s second foreign income generator.

In 2018, more than 3 million tourists visited Costa Rica – a substantial increase on 1995’s 784,000.

With a 7.8% year-on-year increase, tourist arrivals in Cyprus have increased from 2.4 million in 2014 to 3.9 million in 2018.


Dominica experienced a drop in tourism figures in 2017 due to the damage caused by Hurricane Maria. With a focus on 'voluntourism' and being open for business, tourism figures saw a sharp increase in 2018, surpassing 2016’s figure. 

Puerto Rico suffered a serious decline in tourism activity in 2016 due to the outbreak of the Zika virus, and in 2017 due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria. However, since mid-2018, tourism activity is on the rise and to date in 2019 is exceeding pre-Hurricane Maria levels.  

Special economic zones (SEZ)

Special tourism and recreation zones are being created in Azerbaijan, where investors are offered special tax and customs duty incentives to invest in accommodation, food and beverages and attraction facilities. 

In 2018, SEZ Turkestan in Kazakhstan was established. Tenants benefit from numerous tax and customs preferences without any restriction on the company’s size and minimum capital requirement.


As part of plans to reopen the oldest zoo in Ukraine, Kharkiv is working in co-operation with the European Zoo Association to meet all European standards for taking care of animals. Kharkiv is a member of the Eurocities network and was also the first Ukrainian city to be awarded the Europe Prize.


The Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT) has developed the Sustainability Certification programme to categorise and distinguish companies that demonstrate sustainability within their operations.

In Iceland, the Tourist Site Protection Fund promotes the development, maintenance and protection of tourist attractions across the country. Since 2012, the fund has allocated nearly Ikr4.8bn ($38.96m) to more than 650 projects.

Tour operators

Cape Verde’s tourism sector is dominated by international tour operators such as TUI and Thomson, as well as local independent players. They propose all-inclusive destinations with packages often including an airfare, a room and board, enabling them to apply competitive prices and enjoy economies of scale to create value.

Untapped potential

Lebanon’s tourism sector offers promising investment opportunities across various niche markets. Ready-to-market tourism and hospitality concepts are growing, as demand for entertainment increases from both the local population and foreign visitors.

With Albania not yet a standard touristic market in the Balkans, Palasë and Zvërnec offer investors the chance to invest in a new market, with several government incentives offering land facilities.

Up and coming destination 

To revive Turkestan’s rich history and support further development, the state government approved a new strategy for the tourism sector for 2019 to 2025. The main strategic aims are to increase tourist flows to 9 million by 2025, while developing touristic infrastructure rapidly.


Voluntourism packages are available in Dominica, inviting travellers to assist in the clean-up and rebuild of the Nature Island following Hurricane Maria.  


According to data from the country’s Ministry of Environment, Costa Rica is home to about 6.5% of the world’s biodiversity in just 0.03% of the world’s territory. Additionally, according to Protected Planet’s database, more than 28% of terrestrial area is protected, covering over 14,600 square kilometres.  

Herzegovina is in the heart of the Via Dinarica mega-trail, home to Hutovo Blato – a unique sub-Mediterranean wetland, one of the richest wetland bird reserves in Europe – and Blidinje Nature Park.