Iceland is a top destination for U.S. travelers. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): Interest in France, including Provence and its lavender fields, is expected to grow. // © 2016 iStock
Time and time again, the mighty resilience of travelers manages to shine amid the shroud of global events.
With acts of terrorism taking place this past year in Brussels and in Paris and Nice, France, travel to Europe took a hit. France in particular saw a downturn in incoming U.S. tourism, but numerous tour operators are hopeful for the future and say the country’s once sluggish numbers are already on the rise.
In fact, France has held fast to its reputation as a favored destination, according to an August report by Virtuoso that lists the country as No. 2 for popular fall and holiday travel destinations, based on future bookings. (Italy earned the No. 1 spot, where it remains for many tour operators.)
Looking ahead, G Adventures’ 2017 early booking trends reveal that France’s year-over-year bookings have increased a whopping 1,000 percent. Avanti Destinations, too, is seeing France bounce back, with a healthy number of bookings made for next year, predominantly for travel to the country’s provincial towns.
“We strongly believe that France will continue its comeback,” said Harry Dalgaard, president of Avanti. “It is simply one of the greatest countries in the world for independent travelers.”
Though devastating, the calamities abroad have resulted in robust interest in less conventional spots in Europe. Scandinavia — which includes Denmark, Sweden and Norway — has edged its way into the limelight and will thrive in 2017. A September survey of Ensemble Travel Group members highlights Croatia, Iceland and Ireland as top international destinations of interest for clients, in addition to traditional favorites such as Rome and Paris.
The inclusion of Iceland will come as no surprise to those already selling travel to the Nordic island nation, which experienced a 56.3 percent year-over-year increase in visitors from the U.S. in August, according to data released by the Icelandic Tourism Board. In spite of doubling its cruise capacity, Tauck’s Iceland cruise departures for 2017 are already sold out. And Avanti’s Iceland product has grown 200 percent year over year, for the second year in a row.
At the end of 2015, many operators anticipated Africa to rebound from the Ebola hysteria that flattened travel efforts to the continent. Happily, this has proven mostly true: Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) notes significant increases in both East Africa and Southern Africa bookings in 2016.
Meanwhile, travel to the Middle East continues its propensity to fluctuate. For many operators, Turkey is either on hold or has experienced a decline in numbers. However, though Geckos Adventures has seen a 50 percent decrease in visitors for its Turkey itineraries, there are already signs of recovery.
“Egypt also continues to be impacted by concerns around global events,” said Leigh Barnes, regional director for Geckos Adventures. “But those who have chosen to visit report that they have had the pyramids almost to themselves.”
Due to the Zika virus, South America and the Caribbean have experienced some decline, perhaps most notably in Puerto Rico, where record growth numbers in 2015 have dropped since the outbreak. But Cuba — despite also receiving a Zika travel advisory by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — is still a front-runner of top destinations for American travelers, says USTOA president Terry Dale. Colombia, too, is receiving steady interest.
Asia, which has managed to evade the aforementioned turmoil, is predicted to retain its robust market, with Japan, Southeast Asia and India — the last-mentioned being one of A&K’s most requested destinations for both group and individual travel — paving the way.
Unsurprisingly, a majority of travelers in 2016 whiled away their vacations on American soil, and the National Park Service’s heavily promoted 100th birthday is a chief reason why. According to a June survey conducted by AAA, the final count of visitors to national parks in 2016 will likely surpass last year’s 307 million visitors. What’s more, 79 percent of Americans intend to visit a national park in the next 12 months.
One of Tauck’s biggest trends from 2016 is substantial bookings in North America, led by tours featuring U.S. national parks. Likewise, Austin Adventures reports a record-breaking year for national park offerings, with Yellowstone National Park as No. 1 and Glacier National Park close behind.
According to Dale, the U.S. had a record year in 2016 for some USTOA members and is predicted to persist on the upswing for the incoming year.