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There’s a new cast of countries inching their way onto the tourism stage.
As the industry looks ahead to 2019, experts predict that traditional bucket-list destinations will continue to hold strong, while lesser-known locales will cater to travelers’ thirst for the new and unfamiliar.
“Clients are far more curious and open-minded than we give them credit for,” said Ignacio Maza, executive vice president for Signature Travel Network. “It’s essential for advisors to be constantly reading and researching new destinations and presenting new ideas to their clients to stimulate new conversations and fresh possibilities.”
Here’s where travelers will be collecting their passport stamps in 2019.
Europe Will Remain StrongEurope is the world’s most-visited region, according to the 2018 Tourism Highlights report from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), and it leads in overall tourism arrivals by no small margin: France, Spain, Italy, the U.K. and Germany snagged half of the top 10 spots in 2017 — ranking Nos. 1, 2, 5, 7 and 9, respectively.Despite recent counts of terrorism and shifts in the political landscape — hello, Brexit — last year marked Europe’s eighth year of sustained growth. The continent is also welcoming a record number of American visitors, according to Tom Jenkins, executive director of the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA).
“The U.S. is, by far, the most important long-haul market in the world, and in some ways, the European provision of tourism has been defined by American visitors over the years,” Jenkins said. “Everywhere is doing well. France and Belgium, in particular, have been seeing big surges in American visitors.”
Although some of this popularity is due to Europe’s high number of nation-states, the continent also has an eternal cultural appeal that will continue to attract clients, Jenkins says, with a large proportion of the growth coming from first-time visitors eager to check off traditional favorites such as London, Rome, Amsterdam and the like.
This perennial popularity is reflected within Virtuoso’s 2019 Luxe Report, as well. France moved up to the No. 2 spot, and Italy — for the 10th year in a row — snagged the top spot for global destinations, according to Misty Ewing Belles, managing director of global public relations for Virtuoso.
Interest in lesser-known destinations — such as Sri Lanka — will be on the rise in 2019.Credit: 2018 G Adventures
Expect to see new offerings in Bolivia next year.Credit: 2018 G Adventures
Ethiopia is an emerging destination for 2019.Credit: 2018 G Adventures
G Adventures and Virtuoso include Japan on their list of top destinations for 2019.Credit: 2018 G Adventures
Emerging Destinations to WatchAlthough checking off tried-and-true favorites will still be a top motivator for travel next year, clients will also seek out new hot spots, Ewing Belles says.
Virtuoso designated a section of its Luxe Report to up-and-coming destinations, with Japan, Croatia, Iceland, Portugal and Egypt rounding out the top five for 2019.
This interest in “what’s new and what’s next,” also led Signature to release its predictions on Emerging Destinations for 2019 in September, Maza says.
The response was overwhelming; the list received more publicity than any other announcement in the company’s 62-year history.
“Travelers want to experience places that are unique, different and like nowhere else,” Maza said. “They’re looking for places that are different from where everyone else is going.”
Topping Signature’s list is Egypt (No. 5 for Virtuoso), which, after years of political unrest, made its way onto travelers’ wish lists thanks to increased security and the strength of the U.S. dollar to the Egyptian pound. And there are plenty of new offerings for clients: With the 2019 opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum, Giza will soon be home to the largest archaeological museum in the world. Additionally, the Nile River is welcoming new and refurbished river ships — such as Oberoi Hotels & Resorts’ Oberoi Zahra and Viking’s Viking Ra — and affluent travelers have several high-end accommodation options, including The Ritz-Carlton, Cairo and the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, according to Maza.
Like ETOA’s Jenkins, Signature executives also gave a nod to Belgium, but more notable contenders include Bolivia, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia, which are cross-listed on tour operator G Adventures’ 2019 Adventurer’s Dozen.
G has reported a 58 percent growth in global sales in Sri Lanka bookings, leading to the development of two additional itineraries there. The company also saw a spike in interest in Bolivia — with U.S. sales doubling over the past two years — and Ethiopia, which recorded a 98 percent increase in bookings, leading to a 10-day Ethiopia tour from the capital city of Addis Ababa; departures will begin in January. The Adventurer’s Dozen also includes Italy and Japan, along with Uzbekistan, Senegal, Taiwan, the Galapagos Islands, Jordan, Iceland and Patagonia (Argentina).
Although this trend toward less frequented spots is here to stay, Jenkins advises that travel sellers bear in mind that both tourism markets — the traditional and the emerging — have their own merits.
“The off-the-beaten path, hidden gems are enormously appealing in theory, and they add real character to any product offering,” he said. “But the less popular destinations are less popular for a reason. You have to balance that with the need to sell the things that are already popular — the things clients know about and that are sensational places to go.”