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Traveling in October? Worst holiday destinations for a deep breath

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Bad air during holiday, which cities should you avoid?

Researchers at NYU School of Medicine, published in April 2019 a study of pollution-related coughing and breathing difficulties for young adults traveling internationally. They found that traveling to a city with poor air quality could reduce lung function by as much as 20 per cent.

So which cities should you avoid visiting? Below, Airmine has ranked the 25 largest tourist destinations in the world according to air quality. 

Humayun’s tomb, Delhi, India. Photo by Tarun Anand Giri on Unsplash

The air quality is sampled over a relatively short period of time (late September 2019), and other travel times might give other results. However, the list still gives an indication of which cities to avoid if you suffer from diseases related to air pollution. 

Desert dust and Indian smoke

On the top of the list are cities in the Middle East and India. And while the desert cities of the Middle East suffer from a dusty and hot climate year round, cities in India have larger seasonal variation. For example, the air quality in Delhi is likely to deteriorate over the next months as farmers burn crop stubble during winter.

The next cities on the list are Kuala Lumpur and a group of cities in China.

Good news for domestic Chinese travellers

Despite being high on our list, the largest tourist destinations in China actually have better air quality than most other Chinese cities. For example the citizens of Shenzen are less exposed to bad air than the average Chinese. And as the major Chinese tourist destinations to a large extent cater for domestic travelers, many visitors might actually experience an improvement in air quality when traveling.

Next comes comes the cities that receive the largest number of travelers; Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. These are in the middle of the pack when it comes to air pollution. Moreover, they might have got a better position on the list if we were looking at the air quality in the monsoon months (June-August) instead of late September, as the monsoon rain “wash” out the dust in the atmosphere.

After Taipei, comes a group of cities that had reasonably good air quality in late September 2019, such as Paris, New York and London. However, entering the winter months, air quality is likely to deteriorate in some of the cities. In Europe and the US, there is significant seasonal variations and January/February tend to be the worst months.

The October city ranking

Worst cities to go to if you suffer from air pollution (number of visitors annually)

  1. Mecca, Saudi Arabia (8.7 mill)
  2. Delhi, India (7.4 mill)
  3. Dubai, UAE (16 mill)
  4. Mumbai, India (8.9 mill)
  5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (12.8 mill)
  6. Guangzhou, China (9 mill)
  7. Shanghai, China (7.3 mill)
  8. Shenzen, China (13 mill)
  9. Macau, China (16.3 mill)
  10. Bangkok, Thailand (23.4 mill)
  11. Singapore, Singapore (17.6 mill)
  12. Hong Kong, China (25.7 mill)
  13. Taipei, Taiwan (9.3 mill)
  14. Paris, France (14.6 mill)
  15. Barcelona, Spain (7.6 mill)
  16. Istanbul, Turkey (9.2 mill)
  17. Pattaya, Thailand (7.3 mill)
  18. Rome, Italy (9.6 mill)
  19. London, UK (19.8 mill)
  20. Prague, Czech Republic (8.6 mill visitors)
  21. New York, USA (13.1 mill)
  22. Phuket, Thailand (12 mill)
  23. Seoul, South Korea (7.7 mill)
  24. Tokyo, Japan (9.7 mill visitors)
  25. Miami, USA (8 mill)


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