Forget sipping a glass of wine on the terrace of the Opera House beside Sydney Harbour - an online poll reveals that the world’s travellers would much rather be drinking orange juice on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi.
The market-research organisation, Ipsos, has conducted its first poll to find “The World’s Favourite City”. In February, over 18,000 “global citizens” in 24 countries were asked to rate cities as places to do business in, to live in, and to visit.
New York beat London and Paris to the overall top spot. Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos, revealed the results of the poll at the Foreign Press Association in London. He said: “There are a handful of ‘superbrand’ cities. New York is the clear leader, but London and Paris, in joint second place, do very well indeed.”
Mr Page described Zurich as “the surprise star,” saying that Switzerland’s largest city is “The place the world’s public would most like to live”.
Sydney was soundly beaten into fifth place by Abu Dhabi. Destination New South Wales, which promotes Sydney worldwide, refused to comment on the results of the survey. Hong Kong, Singapore and Amsterdam also lagged well behind the UAE capital.
In tourism terms, Abu Dhabi has long been in the shadow of the neighbouring emirate, Dubai. Abu Dhabi has four flights a day from London, while Dubai has 14. In Lonely Planet’s 224-page Dubai & Abu Dhabi guide, only seven pages are devoted to the latter. However, Abu Dhabi is planning a world-class cultural hub, with a branch of the Louvre expected to open 2015. It will be followed soon afterwards by the inauguration of a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia’s votes were critical to the success of Abu Dhabi, with the strongest showing for any city in the survey. But there was also support for the UAE capital from surprising quarters.
Brazilians preferred Abu Dhabi to Rio, and said they would rather visit the Gulf city than London or Los Angeles. Spanish people would rather live in Abu Dhabi than Madrid. And Abu Dhabi is rated as the world’s top city by more than twice as many Italians as voted for Rome.
British respondents in the survey expressed a preference for living in Abu Dhabi ahead of both Paris and Los Angeles.
The Foreign Office points out that the UAE is a conservative nation, with some “serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK”. Punishable offences include homosexuality, sex outside marriage and public displays of affection. The FCO says: “There have been several arrests for kissing in public”.
Studying the voting pattern from individual countries in the Ipsos survey reveals an element of Eurovision-style block voting, combined with national pride.
Indonesians voted overwhelmingly for neighbouring Singapore. According to the Japanese, the best cities to live in are Tokyo and Osaka. Australians and Canadians voted strongly for Sydney and Toronto respectively. The French did much the same for Paris, though they conceded that London is a far better city in which to do business.
British voters rated New York, London and Sydney as the top three cities.
Ipsos’ singling out of “The World’s Least-Popular Cities” is also controversial. Mr Page said: “Across the 24 countries covered, Karachi gets nil points, with Tehran, Tel Aviv and Warsaw barely troubling the scorer”. Budapest, Brussels and Moscow were also poorly placed.
The Ipsos study is the second awards listing in a week to raise eyebrows in the travel industry. The short list for “Europe’s Leading Destination” at the World Travel Awards included Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris and Venice. On Saturday, when the results were announced, first prize went to Yorkshire.
Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, told BBC Look North: “It gives us great profile. Next year, with the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire, we will be the centre of Europe.”
The readers of Wanderlust, the magazine for independent travellers, gave a very different top three in the most recent awards. Kyoto in Japan was third, with Cusco in Peru second. The winner was the small Vietnamese city of Hoi An. The most successful big city was New York, in seventh place.