2017 is shaping up to be a year of uncertainty, with a new political regime here in the USA and violent attacks in popular destinations abroad.
But people still seem eager to travel for business or leisure—or even “bleisure”—according to industry experts.
The U.S. Tour Operators Association, which helps millions of travelers arrange trips and packages, projects that sales will reach $15 billion by the end of the year.
“That projection is a nearly 4% increase in total packages sold in 2016 over 2015, showing remarkable resilience in a challenging year for travel,” says Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA.
The challenges have been big: terrorist attacks, political instability, and health crises such as the spread of the Zika virus.
Still, 82% of tour operators surveyed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) expect a growth in sales in 2017.
“Many people are still open, adventurous and curious about the world around them and are eager to get off the grid and explore,” says Travis Katz, co-founder and CEO of travel research tool Trip.com.
So where do the experts expect travelers to go?
Despite being a more than day-long trip for most U.S. residents, Australia appears on many lists of hot destinations.
Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, topped Trip.com’s list of 2017’s Rising Stars. Trip.com considers Rising Stars to be destinations with up-and-coming culinary scenes, active nightlife, uncrowded beaches, creative festivals, and historic architecture.
Katz says Adelaide offers a balance of culture and adventure. It has a pristine nature reserve, three national parks, historic churches, and the Barossa Valley wine region.
Sydney, the capital of New South Wales in Australia, topped Booking.com’s list of best international destinations for its beaches and attractions such as the Sydney Opera House.
Cuba continues to be a hot spot, ever since President Barack Obama started easing relations with the island nation two years ago. Now, U.S. commercial airlines are allowed to fly there and cruises can make stops there. U.S. based hotels can also take over or build hotels there, with Starwood Hotels and Resorts being the first to ink deals.
What’s unclear is whether or not President-Elect Donald Trump will roll back some of those efforts once he takes office, as he indicated he would during his campaign.
“Concerns that travel to Cuba could again become more restricted or commercial flights could end with the advent of a new administration are continuing to feed travelers’ sense of urgency to visit.” Katz says.
Despite that uncertainty, Cuba appears high on many top 2017 destinations. And while Havana has always been a coveted destination, Trip.com has found that many travelers are exploring cities beyond the capital such as the colonial town of Trinidad and the iguana-filled island, Cayo Iguana.
Canada has had a strong showing of late. Lonely Planet named the country the best destination for 2017, citing its friendly residents and great tourism infrastructure. A weak Canadian dollar also makes it an affordable destination. Another plus: It will be a festive year in Canada as the country is commemorating the 150th anniversary of its Confederation.
More specifically, Booking.com named Banff, a resort town within Banff National Parkin the Rocky Mountains, the third best international destination, based on an analysis of patterns of growth in searches. It followed Sydney and Seoul, South Korea.
TripAdvisor placed Whistler, a ski destination in British Columbia, in the No. 2 spot on its list of rising international destinations for 2017. Its No. 1 rising international destination is laid-back San Jose Cabo in Mexico. TripAdvisor measured the year-over-year increase in positive traveler review ratings for accommodations, restaurants and attractions, as well as a rise in booking interest.
Colombia is generating more buzz. The country’s government just reached a peace deal to end a 52-year-long civil war, and its president recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. Lonely Planet named it the second best destination of 2017. And Medellin, the capital of Colombia’s mountainous Antioquia province, landed in the No. 2 spot on Trip.com’s list of Rising Stars.
Other more obscure destinations also gained recognition from some experts.
Tbilisi, Georgia, made TripAdvisor’s top 10 list of global destinations on the rise, as well as Trip.com’s Rising Star List for its sulfur baths, great restaurants, and Georgian wine. Trip.com likens it to Prague 20 years ago.
St. Petersburg, Russia, was the No. 5 best international destination on Booking.com’s list.
“Recently Booking.com pulled the top endorsed destinations for architecture based on millions of reviews by our guests and found that Saint Petersburg was one of the cities at the top of that list – with more recommendations than places you might expect such as Milan and London,” says Todd Dunlap, managing director of the Americas at Booking.com.
Domestically, large cities such as New York and Los Angeles did not shine as much as places such as Houston, Columbus, and Portland, Maine.
Booking.com named Chattanooga, Milwaukee, Mammoth Lakes in California, St. Augustine Beach in Florida, and Dallas as its top five best domestic destinations.
“Travelers appreciate destinations that have a lot to offer – even if they don’t always get as much buzz,” Dunlap says.
TripAdvisor named the beach city of Kihei on Maui’s southwest shore in Hawaii its top rising spot in the USA for its selection of hotels and restaurants and diving and swimming.
Rounding out the top five are Park City, Utah; Portland, Maine; Louisville; and Colorado Springs.
South Padre Island was the only U.S. destination that Trip.com named a rising star. Once only known for Spring Break, the island is now attracting more families to explore its beach and Dolphin Research Center.