Where will U.S. travelers venture out to in 2018?
When making these decisions, many people are wondering what is open for business. Wildfires ravaged Napa and Sonoma counties and other parts of California. Hurricanes hit Florida, Texas and the Caribbean. An earthquake pummeled Mexico City and other parts of the country. And domestic terrorism hit Las Vegas with a mass shooting.
But the destinations are coming back. Although parts of Puerto Rico still lack power after Hurricane Maria, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company says that more than 75% of hotels are operational and taking reservations. Lonely Planet still named San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, one of its top 10 cities to visit in 2018.
Back on the mainland, Randy Johnson, owner of Getaway Adventures, a Sonoma County company that offers bike, kayak and hiking tours of Napa and Sonoma, saw business drop after the wildfires. But now businesses are ready for tourists.
“The fires that swept through the area are now only a bad memory for most of us,” he says. “Only three out of 450 wineries were destroyed and everyone is more than happy to greet wine enthusiasts.”
Vegas is thriving and welcoming visitors and new entertainment acts, with Lady Gaga announcing a residency there.
A survey by Eric Mower + Associates, a marketing company, asked 754 U.S. adults if recent natural disasters – from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria to the California wildfires – had affected their winter vacation plans. Two-thirds of the respondents said they would return to destinations that have suffered a natural disaster.
But many U.S. travelers are looking beyond those spots for new places to explore.
Lonely Planet also named Detroit a top city to visit next year. Young entrepreneurs have turned abandoned buildings into distilleries, bike shops and galleries. There’s a new hockey and basketball arena downtown. Three new parks will extend the riverfront trail.
“After decades of neglect, Detroit is rolling again,” Lonely Planet says.
The U.S. Tour Operators Association, whose members offer tours and custom packages to 8.6 million travelers annually, forecasts that California, Florida and Hawaii (tied for second), New York, Alaska and Nevada (tied for fourth), and Washington D.C. will be the most popular U.S. destinations for its clients in 2018.
Washington, D.C., continues to have active pipelines in terms of new hotels and restaurants. The new 220-room Line D.C. is the latest luxury hotel to open in the city in the trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood. Celebrity chefs such as Mike Isabella continue to expand their empires in Washington. Isabella recently debuted Requin in The Wharf, a new neighborhood in Southwest D.C. He is also opening a Tysons Galleria food hall in a Virginia suburb.
Jack Ezon, a travel advisor at Ovation Vacations in New York, lists New Orleans as one of his top picks for 2016. The city has gotten more sophisticated hotel options, such as the new NOPSI hotel, a Salamander Resort by Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson.
Booking.com looked at year-over-year bookings from September 2016 to September 2017 to determine the top 10 emerging destinations.
The U.S. destinations that made the list were Nashville and Portland, Ore. Both get high marks for their thriving food, hotel and entertainment scenes. Nashville alone has more than 12,000 new hotels rooms opening or under construction, according to Clem Bason, CEO of value hotel search site goSeek.com and former President of Hotwire.com.
As for international destinations, Iceland continues to entice, with the U.S. Tour Operators Association naming it the top emerging or “off-the-beaten-path” destination for 2018, with travelers wanting to see the Northern Lights and luxuriate in the country’s Blue Lagoon.
The association also named Australia, Spain, Italy, France and Japan as hot destinations. Many travelers are also hopping over to New Zealand from Australia, as an adventure travel hot spot. Vietnam has recently attracted more interest, having been spotlighted this year by documentarian Ken Burns.
Portugal also has earned places on various popular destination lists. Often overshadowed by Spain, Portugal offers a more low-key alternative with the bustling capital of Lisbon, the region of Porto, and beaches along the Algarve region–all at affordable prices.
Bason has named Dublin as a budget destination. Tourism from the USA has boomed there over the last five years. New hotels are opening, and low-cost carrier Norwegian Air added flights there this year.
Other travelers are seeking more off-the-beaten path experiences in Europe.
Jonny Bealby, founder of Wild Frontiers, which specializes in small tours to off-the-radar destinations, says Balkan destinations such as Montenegro, Albania and Serbia are resonating with his clients. Montenegro’s 16th century Venetian forts and defensive walls recently became UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Georgia is also becoming a hot spot, with a thriving wine region.
“Since the tragic war of the late 1990’s, the Balkans has been quietly developing into an off-the -beaten track destination for those looking for hidden gems in Europe,” Bealby says.
South Africa has become more popular with U.S. travelers because of a favorable exchange rate. According to Lonely Planet, the country is also celebrating the “Nelson Mandela Centenary 2018: Be the Legacy,” a program of sporting, educational, and arts events honoring the leader.
Over in Asia, all eyes will be on South Korea this winter as the Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang. A new high-speed railway will take people across the country to the games. According to Lonely Planet, Seoul, the capital, now has a new high-line park with cafes, bars and libraries, making it seem like a “futuristic” city.
Trends in how people travel
Industry watchers says these are some of the top emerging trends:
- Bucket List Travel: Baby Boomers are retiring and using their money to travel, turning bucket-list destinations into a reality. They are choosing South African safaris or a trip to Machu Picchu over beach resorts. “But the trend is broader than that,” says Greg Geronemus, the co-CEO of smarTours http, a guided tour company based in New York City. “Even millennials are contemplating their bucket lists and social media is inspiring a whole new generation of travelers interested in pushing the envelope in terms of where they travel.”
- Shoulder season travel grows: More travelers are willing to take off-season trips to avoid crowds and take advantage of better prices. Backroads, an adventure travel company, says it is offering more tours during off-season periods to destinations such as Scotland, England, Iceland, and Portugal.
- A digital travel experience: Kristian Valk, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Hotelchamp, says more and more travelers are using functions such as Google Translate to give them live translations, apps such as EatWith to find social dining options, and their Smartphones to serve as hotel room keys and even control parts of their rooms. If they want, they can have a completely digital experience.
- Hyper-personalization: Bealby says travelers are looking for even more hands-on local experiences, such as local dancing and cooking lessons. Other experiences his tour guide company have organized are meeting with fisherman, watching weddings in India, and taking arrow lessons from a bushman. Traveling with experts has also increased in popularity, such as culinary tours with cookbook authors.
- New Orleans will mark its 300th anniversary this year. The city will celebrate with a tricentennial Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in January, a special exhibition at the Historic New Orleans Collection, and the Nola4Women Global Summit on Women and Girls and the Church in the Crescent exhibit at the Old Ursuline Convent.
- San Antonio will also kick off its 300th anniversary celebration with a New Year’s Eve free outdoor commemorative concert. There will be several art and educational activities throughout the year, as well as a Day of Reflection on May 1. That will be a community candlelight vigil and sunset services in San Antonio’s Main Plaza.