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The 5 Most Popular Cities in Texas for Tourists

As the #4 most popular U.S. destination for overseas tourists, the Lone Star state is hardly a loner. With world-class cities, each full of distinct culture and flair; larger-than-life Tex-Mex and BBQ cuisine; authentic ranching culture packed with history and sound — the Texan appeal does not need explaining to the average overseas tourist. But where are all these foreigners heading? Texas is roughly the size of France and with as many top destinations!

Using data from the International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), we found the five most visited metropolitan areas in Texas as ranked by the total estimated overseas visitors to each city in 2021 (excluding Mexico and Canada). These five cities are responsible for over 80% of overseas tourism to the state! See our methodology for a full explanation.

a map of the five most-visited cities in texas with a table of their tourism stats(Back to Top)

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Table: The 5 Most Popular Destinations in Texas

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Independent: Our research team independently recommends the best destinations using data analysis. Our top recommendations are based solely on data from the International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO). Our research is editorially independent, but we may earn a commission for any purchases made through links on this page.

Secondary Research: To complete this project, we used the latest National Travel and Tourism Office’s Inbound Market and Sector Profiles for Overseas Visitors to the United States data. This dataset is based on the NTTO’s ongoing Survey of International Air Travelers (SIAT) to estimate overseas visitation to 91 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) or Metropolitan Divisions (MDs) and 45 U.S. States and Territories.

Survey Details: Overseas visitation to the U.S. are estimated by the NTTO. It uses the jackknife cross-validation statistical method to estimate visitation only for metros and states with enough sample responses to reach a 95% confidence interval. Due to this, some unreported destinations could have a higher proportion of total visitation than those reported. U.S. Overseas Visitor % is based on the 2021 U.S. visitor market share as reported by the NTTO and is a weighted estimate of the share of visitations to each MSA or state of all overseas visitors to the U.S.

Destinations: At the most-granular level, the NTTO only breaks down visitor data into Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) or Metropolitan Divisions (MDs), which often include more than one city. We simplified MSAs and MDs in this piece for easier comprehension. For example, the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown MSA became the Houston Metro.

Rankings: City ranks in this article are based on the 2021 estimated overseas visitation to the U.S. as reported by the NTTO. All data were collected and analyzed between 2/28/23-3/2/23.

Replicability: The original data from the NTTO can be found via the link here under the Statistics and Research Programs, Market and Sector Profiles, Inbound Market Profiles: Overseas Visitors to the United States, U.S. States, Territories and Cities Visited xlsx file. The data Trips to Discover used was uploaded by the NTTO in June 2022 and contains overseas visitor estimates for 2021 and 2020, growth between the two years and market share for 2021 and 2020. Our rankings were based solely on the estimated 2021 overseas visitation volume.

Contact Us: If you have any questions about this study or are looking to build a similar project and would like to know more about our process, please don’t hesitate to contact us at [email protected], and we can walk you through the steps.

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1. Houston: 317,000 Visitors Houston, Texas
Credit: Houston, Texas by Sean Pavone via Dreamstime

1. Houston: 317,000 Visitors

Houston is “America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” according to Best Cities which ranks the metro as the #11 best city in the country. Tourists around the globe are increasingly heading to Space City; with 317,000 overseas visitors in 2021, Houston was the #6 most visited metro in the U.S., according to NTTO data. Although down from a 2019 high of 828,000 overseas visitors due to COVID-19, Houston faired proportionally better than other U.S. cities, jumping eight ranks to #6 in 2021.

2. Dallas: 193,000 Visitors Dallas, Texas
Credit: Dallas, Texas by F11photo via Dreamstime

2. Dallas: 193,000 Visitors

Landing #2 in the state and #13 nationally, Dallas grew its overseas tourism by 53% in 2021, according to NTTO estimates. That year, the metro attracted more overseas visitors than longstanding popular destinations like Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Diego. Known for its high concentration of restaurants, shopping, and entertainment like museums and nightlife, Dallas is increasingly a destination for overseas visitors to the U.S., with over 1 in every 50 foreigners selecting Dallas as their American destination of choice.

3. Austin: 74,000 Visitors Austin, Texas
Credit: Austin, Texas by Crackerclips via Dreamstime

3. Austin: 74,000 Visitors

Known as the Live Music Capital of the World, it is no wonder that Austin, Texas, ranks #21 in the nation for the metro with the most overseas visitors. Although the 74,000 overseas tourists who graced the city in 2021 are only a fraction of the nearly 200,000 visitors in 2019 due to lockdown restrictions, Austin’s live music scene is thriving again, with hundreds of concerts and dozens of music festivals lined up for 2023.

4. San Antonio: 50,000 Visitors San Antonio, Texas
Credit: San Antonio, Texas by Sean Pavone via Dreamstime

4. San Antonio: 50,000 Visitors

An 80-mile drive south from Austin down the I-35, tourists reach San Antonio, Texas’s #4 most-visited metro. Fifty thousand overseas tourists may sound small compared to its nearly 1.5 million population. Still, by placing #32 nationally, San Antonio welcomed more foreigners than Portland, Maine, and Flagstaff, Arizona, in 2021. The city is an excellent destination for families and hosts a variety of theme parks and museums to explore with kids. It also has North America’s largest concentration of Spanish colonial architecture, with five missions to explore via a hike and bike trail!

5. Fort Worth: 18,000 Visitors Fort Worth, Texas
Credit: Fort Worth, Texas by Barbara Smyers via Dreamstime

5. Fort Worth: 18,000 Visitors

Not to be dwarfed by or morphed into its larger neighbor to the East, Forth Worth is a distinguishable metro with less population density leading to a more relaxed and open feel. The metro’s overseas tourism has fallen yearly since 2019, making it the only city in the top five with negative growth in 2021 over 2020. However, according to Visit Fort Worth, the city generated the highest economic activity from hospitality in 2022, so it doesn’t look like College Station, Corpus Christi, or El Paso, Texas, will bump Panther City from its #5 ranking anytime soon.

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