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As a true fan of the top 10 list, this is a great time of year for me. It seems like just about everyone with a laptop is putting together a list of the highlights of this past year or making predictions on what’s to come in 2012. So, I decided to put aside my pet project — creating a top 10 list of “The Best Top 10 Lists” — and, with the help of some trusted travel agents and other sources, create a list of top destinations to watch for in 2012.
In a normal year, London is one of the top destinations for U.S. travelers but, in 2012, the destination is poised to score even bigger with visitors. Not only is London still glowing from the royal wedding, but next year there will be major festivities for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, followed by the Olympic and Paralympic Games in August. And with a very smart, well-organized tourism campaign ready to go pre- and post-games, consumers are going to hear a lot about this world-class destination next year.
Overall, there seems to be very high interest in South America for next year, but Peru specifically stands out for agents such as Sharon Kay Howell of Travel Masters in Tyler, Texas.
“There’s just very high interest in this destination for next year,” said Howell.
In addition to its amazing attractions, ASTA chose Peru to host its International Destination Expo next year, which means the country sure is to get attention from travel agents as well.
Other South American countries mentioned by agents included Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina.
“Argentina is such a good value for the money and there is so much to see and do,” said Eric Maryanov of All-Travel.com in Los Angeles.
Right now, Greece is in the news constantly due to its desperate financial problems, but assuming that gets ironed out somewhat in 2012, the country could ultimately present U.S. travelers with a huge value proposition. Readers of Virtuoso Life chose the country for the magazine’s list of Top Five Dream Destinations. Plus, Mediterranean cruises are always a hot commodity.
Last year, political instability led to a major drop-off in tourism for this destination but, before that, Egypt was by far one of the hottest destinations for travelers. We’re expecting it to rise again in 2012 and we’re not alone — tour operator Cox & Kings listed Egypt as a prime example of a travel trend it calls “Supporting Evolving and Recovering Societies.”
If you haven’t heard of it, get used to the term Floriade 2012. The Floriade is a global spectacle in which dozens of countries participate in a celebration of nature. The event takes place once every 10 years and it’s occurring next year in The Netherlands from April 5 to Oct. 7. In case you doubt its power to draw tourists, tour operators are already reporting an increase in bookings thanks to the event.
It’s no secret that, due to drug violence and the media’s portrayal of that violence, Mexico is having problems with tourism from the U.S. in a way that is unprecedented. The beneficiaries of this trouble have, in part, been neighboring countries in Central America. Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and Panama were all included in agents’ recommendations as well as on major top 10 lists. But Costa Rica is still noted as the gem of Central America. Safe, friendly and incredibly beautiful, there’s every reason to believe that tourism to this destination will continue to increase in 2012.
Okay, I know we just said that drug violence has hurt tourism to Mexico — and, of course, it has — however, next year look for visitors to travel to Mexico’s Yucatan and Riviera Maya as part of the country’s Mundo Maya promotion. With the Mayan calendar counting down, there will be more media attention than ever given to the incredible history of the Maya people. That might just be enough to bring skittish travelers south of the border.
While China could probably be on this list every year, in 2012 the regions to watch are in western China in particular. Visiting the spiritual centers of Tibet and the Himalayas (including China’s neighbor, Nepal), for example, are on plenty of bucket lists, and are part of what Cox & Kings recognizes as “Mind, Body and Soul Vacations.”
“True luxury is an experience that will last a lifetime, and destinations that offer these transcendent journeys provide exactly that,” said Stanley.
Travel agent John Oberacker, from Eden for Your World, based in Long Beach, Calif., noted that spirituality and luxury can go hand in hand.
“With the new St. Regis there, Lhasa, Tibet, is now more appealing to the luxury traveler than ever,” he said.
Some travelers are always going to want bragging rights. For those clients, look into Myanmar (also known as Burma). According to Lonely Planet, in 2010, the pro-democracy opposition party changed its position on tourism to the country and revised its boycott on travel in order to encourage Western visitors to come. What visitors will find is a beautiful, welcoming, deeply spiritual Buddhist culture that will offer adventurous travelers plenty to brag about back home.
At TravelAge West, for years now we’ve heard from writers who are very excited to tell us that Cuba is going to be open for U.S. tourism any day now. Of course, that hasn’t happened. However, there actually does seem to be some serious movement toward finally opening up the destination to more tourism. I would expect nothing major will happen on this political hot potato until at least after the 2012 elections, though.