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Travel Hotspots: The Next Big Thing

Golden Pagoda, Myanmar (Burma)Golden Pagoda, Myanmar (Burma). Image: Getty

Ben Lerwill puts the spotlight on destinations set to be on the tourist radar in the year ahead

What makes a travel hotspot? The short answer is there’s no short answer. Any number of factors can see a destination receive an upturn in tourists, from newly unveiled developments and increased flights to fresh marketing campaigns.

As a general rule, the US public is consistent when it comes to its topmost travel destinations — ASTA’s 2014 surveys, for example, showed London, Paris, Rome and Cancun remained the four most agent-booked overseas cities for the 11th summer running. When it comes to less dominant destinations, however, there’s greater potential for a city, region or country to make a marked rise in public consciousness.

Various trends continue to shape travel choices, from the migration to online booking to the power of social media — indeed, International Luxury Travel Market compiled its own hotspot report for 2014; it gauged a city’s status by the number of luxury hotel reviews it attracts. Key luxury hotspots included everywhere from New York and Las Vegas to Buenos Aires and Shanghai.

The geopolitical climate can also have a dramatic effect on where people choose to travel. A poll of travel agents in August 2014, conducted by Travel Leaders Group, found almost 65% reported a decrease in bookings for Israel, 58% for Egypt, 34% for Kenya and 27% for Thailand. A major negative impact was also noted on demand for river cruising in Russia and the Black Sea.

Unforeseen circumstances aside, however, the fortunes of some destinations can be safely predicted. It’s reasonable to assume, for instance, that the increased exposure Brazil earned during the World Cup will continue to generate more visitors, particularly given Rio will be hosting the Olympics in 2016. Likewise, growing new river cruise options in France will find a receptive audience in that particular market sector.

For ASTA agents, meanwhile, the Society’s forthcoming Destination Expo in Marrakech is sure to lead to a greater awareness of Morocco, as proven with previous expos in South Korea, Turkey, Peru and Dubai.

Where more emerging destinations are concerned, things aren’t always so clear-cut. Will a new airport on St Vincent & the Grenadines lead to a notable increase in US tourists? Will US visitors to Asia be tempted by the ever-growing number of mega-resorts on Macau? Or not?

For various reasons, the following 10 destinations stand to draw considerably more attention in the coming 12 months.

The Great Ocean Road, Melbourne. Image: Getty

The Great Ocean Road, Melbourne. Image: Getty

Melbourne
In late October 2014, United Airlines launched a nonstop 15-hour service between its LA hub and Melbourne. As well as being the world’s longest Dreamliner route to date, the news throws fresh attention onto a destination named the ‘World’s Most Livable City’ by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Melbourne is the capital of Victoria state, a region which saw an 11.8% increase to 151,000 overnight visitors from the US in 2014. So what makes it special? It’s got the works — great hotels and restaurants, a thriving cultural scene and iconic touring routes, such as the Great Ocean Road. It offers a world-class sporting calendar too, featuring the Australian Open in tennis and a Formula 1 Grand Prix, plus the city is also hosting the Australian Tourism Exchange, a key B2B trade show, in 2015. visitmelbourne.com

Milan
As host city of Expo 2015 (May 1-October 31), Milan is expecting around 20 million visitors, marking a momentous time for the city. Milan’s hotel scene is equally lively. Marriott opened the Moxy Hotel at Malpensa Airport in September, the Excelsior Hotel Gallia became part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection in November, while a new W Milan hotel is scheduled for April 2016. There has also been talk of Etihad Airways introducing a direct JFK-Milan service, following its recent acquisition of 49% of Alitalia. visitamilano.it

Austin, Texas
Back in February, Austin claimed the top spot in Forbes’ annual list of America’s fastest-growing cities for the fourth year running. It’s little surprise, then, that its hotel market is becoming one of the strongest in the country, with a current occupancy rate of 78% and a huge amount of new development in the pipeline. Hotels on the way include the JW Marriott Austin (due to open in February 2015), Kimpton’s Hotel Van Zandt (spring 2015) and the 1,054-room Fairmont Austin (2016). Key annual events include music festivals such as SXSW and the now expanded Austin City Limits, where Pearl Jam, Outkast and Eminem were among 2014’s headliners. Since 2012, the city has also hosted the US leg of the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the most watched motorsport event in the world. Austin-Bergstrom Airport has previously been named the Best Domestic Airport Worldwide. austintexas.org

Image: AWL Images

Image: AWL Images

Cuba
The emergence of Cuba as a viable choice for US travelers is set to continue into 2015. ASTA member Mayflower Tours announced in August it would be introducing nine-day, people-to-people Cuba tours from early 2015. There are currently seven departures scheduled, and clients can expect visits to a cigar factory and an insight into Cuba’s antique car heritage, among various other activities. Mayflower joins operators such as Travcoa and Insight Cuba in running tours to the destination over the coming 12 months. One option on offer is to arrange a trip to coincide with the Havana Biennial Art Exhibition in May, a large-scale cultural event taking place every two years. For those with an interest in cruising, Group IST has a number of seven-night voyages circumnavigating Cuba, with eight sailing dates between late 2014 and March 2015.

Dubai
The glitziest of the seven United Arab Emirates has more big ambitions. Dubai aims to attract 20 million visitors a year by 2020, and with the destination having reported five straight years of rising tourism numbers, it’s definitely on track. Flagship carrier Emirates began daily flights from Boston in March and from Chicago in August 2014, while a colossal $32bn plan to expand Dubai International Airport was endorsed in September. Hotels are shooting up across the skyline, but there’s already plenty to draw attention. Showpiece projects like the ‘seven-star’ Burj Al Arab, the family-friendly Atlantis Hotel and the soaring Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest building — take top billing, but Dubai is also making headlines for its mega-mall shopping, high-octane activities and food. dubaitourism.ae

Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Image: AWL Images

Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Image: AWL Images

Colombia
The W Bogota Hotel opened in Colombia’s capital city in December, marking another boost for the country’s strengthening reputation. Long avoided, Colombia has in recent years made positive headlines as travelers and operators awaken to its potential — 1.8 million international visitors now arrive annually, around 20% from the US. Tourists tend to stick with Cartagena, Bogota and Medellin, but in 2015 the focus will also be on Cali as host of the inaugural Colombia Birdfair in February — the country has the most number of bird species in the world. A new air route was also launched by Avianca in July between New York and Pereira. colombia.travel

Southeast Asia
River cruising has a firm foothold in several parts of the world, but its growth is particularly apparent in Southeast Asia, where the number of new ships being christened now rivals Europe. Luxury river voyages in Vietnam and Cambodia have become very popular, while the beguiling nation of Myanmar (Burma) now offers numerous cruising options. New vessels include the Irrawaddy Explorer and all-suite Sanctuary Ananda in Myanmar; the Avalon Siem Reap, sailing Cambodia and Vietnam; and the Mekong Princess, which will have spa facilities and four suite categories when it launches in September.

Belgium
The Belgian city of Mons, which played a role in both World Wars, is set for a memorable year. In January it takes up the mantle of European City of Culture for 2015 and has an eye-catching roster of events for the 12 months ahead, including a Vincent Van Gogh exhibition, several grand parties and a show dedicated to the celebrated poet Paul Verlaine, who was imprisoned in Mons in the 1870s. Mons sits 40 miles from Brussels, where commemorative events continue to take place to mark the centenary of WWI. For other visitors with a keen interest in history, meanwhile, June will witness the most impressive re-enactment ever seen in Europe, as thousands of participants mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. visitbelgium.com

Atlanta, Georgia. Image: Getty

Atlanta, Georgia. Image: Getty

Atlanta, Georgia
A number of new openings are giving good cause to consider a trip to Atlanta. Chief among them is the Center for Civil and Human Rights, a 43,000sq ft cultural attraction that was unveiled in June in the Downtown area. It features permanent galleries dedicated to rights struggles in the US and abroad, and the venue welcomes the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in November. Also noteworthy, and even larger in size, is the new College Football Hall of Fame, opened in August. It forms part of Atlanta’s reported $1.5bn of hospitality development in 2014, which also includes the enormous Ponce City Market — home to everything from a food hall to rooftop mini-golf — the Buckhead Atlanta luxury shopping development, and the city’s long-awaited 2.7-mile streetcar loop. atlanta.net

The Philippines
The country’s tourist board has declared 2015 as ‘Visit The Philippines Year’, with a dedicated micro-site phl2015.itsmorefuninthephilippines.com aimed at giving the campaign real substance. The archipelago nation, famed for its beaches and culture, has various high-profile events taking place, including a visit from the Pope in January and the large-scale culinary celebration Madrid Fusion Manila in April. Tourism numbers have seen good growth in recent years — US arrivals totaled 449,793 during the first seven months of 2014, up almost 8%. There’s more good news in the form of the City of Dreams Manila, a new luxury resort in the capital city, including a casino and three high-end accommodation options: a Hyatt, Nobu Hotel and Crown Towers. itsmorefuninthephilippines.com

Where else?
Beijing:
American Airlines is commencing a non-stop service from Dallas/Fort Worth to the Chinese capital in May 2015, the third Chinese route the airline has launched in the past year.
Botswana: Following UNESCO’s recognition of the Okavango Delta as its 1,000 World Heritage Site, the African wildlife-rich wetland is set to reach iconic tourism status.
Macau: 2015 sees Macau open the world’s largest JW Marriott property, as well as an all-suite Ritz-Carlton hotel and the 3,000-room Parisian Macao, complete with an ‘Eiffel Tower’.
Aruba: Southwest Airlines begins its first international route from Houston Hobby Airport from March 2015, flying to Aruba weekly. It started flights to the same destination from Orlando in mid-2014.

PUBLISHED IN THE WINTER 2014/15 EDITION OF ASTAnetwork

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