The chief editors of the most popular consumer travel publications are cartographers of sorts; they can put places on the map. During my annual roundtable with these editors, I asked them what countries they saw as "emerging."
But perhaps the best measure of what they think is truly hot came in answers to questions about where they've recently been, where they're headed next and where they dream about going. Their responses will give you a peek into the future, because shortly after their travel stories appear, consumers react by booking with you.
The most active traveler of the group was USA Today's travel editor, Veronica Stoddart, who in addition to visiting a variety of familiar domestic, European and Caribbean destinations also made stops in Slovakia, Jordan and Lebanon. Her description of Lebanon aroused the most interest among the other editors.
"It was fun, phenomenal," she said. "The thing about Lebanon is it's always sitting on a precipice. You just never know when things are going to explode again. But while things are good, people have an enormously good time. It's like party central."
I asked if being an American affected how people perceived her.
"I never felt a moment's hesitation going around," she said. "Even at night as a woman alone, I accepted rides from strangers when I was lost. There was a genuineness about people, a warmth. It's a very unique place."
Stoddart's dream trips? South Africa and "the train from Beijing to Tibet."
Keith Bellows of National Geographic Traveler cited China and several cities in Europe that he had been to last year (in Helsinki, Finland, he visited 10 saunas in 3.5 hours, each punctuated by a dive into the frigid Baltic).
But his big discovery was Kuelap, Peru, "deep, deep into the Amazon." He described Kuelap as "fundamentally more spectacular" than Machu Picchu, featuring 430 stone, circular houses on a huge escarpment. It's still being cleared of overgrowth, but he recommends a visit now, before the tourist hordes arrive.
He has trips to China and India on his schedule. Ethiopia, Namibia, the Congo and a "six-month trip to India" are on his wish list.
Ethiopia is a "maybe" on the 2010 agenda of Conde Nast Traveler's Klara Glowczewska. Though she laments that she seems "to mostly be sending other people to travel," she did visit India for three weeks this past year, though not on assignment. "That was purely a private trip."
So was a trip to her native Poland. "I hadn't been there for about three years, but that place is booming. Just extraordinary. New hotels, fabulous restaurants, great service. Every year it's been getting better.
"I'm going to Anguilla," she said. "I went last year. Again, a family holiday. We just rent a shack on the beach."
Where does she want to go that she hasn't been? "I've had this thing about the Atacama Desert" in Chile, she said. "I love deserts."
In addition to other destinations in Europe and Asia, Travel + Leisure's Nancy Novogrod visited Kerala, India; China; the Maldives; and two South American destinations: Salta, Argentina ("I liked it a lot") and Brasilia ("I was disappointed in it"). But she was most taken by a recent trip to the Six Senses resort on Oman's Musandam Peninsula, which she characterized as "really romantic and very strange. Topographically and geologically, it's just a very otherworldly place."
She'll return to India in the fall. The Indian Himalayas, along with Patagonia, Kenya and Tanzania, are on her list of target destinations.
Nina Willdorf of Budget Travel recently had a baby and stayed fairly close to home, visiting relatives in the States and venturing down to Mexico. She's looking forward to trips to Beijing, New Orleans and to renting a villa in Tuscany. Home and villa rentals, she predicts, will be one of the fastest-growing segments in travel.
And if time and money were no object? "I'm dying to go to Patagonia," Willdorf said. "It just looks spectacular. I'd be so excited to do some hiking and stay at some of those gorgeous inns."
"Well, I had a different kind of baby this year," Greg Sullivan said of having launched the magazine Afar last summer. "All I did was the Netherlands, England and China. I'm going to India next month, and I have a couple foster kids in South Africa. I'm going to combine seeing them with the World Cup. I'm going with Pencils for Kids, a charity, to Thailand in May, so the first half of the year is looking better for travel."
High on his wish list: New Zealand and Scandinavia.
Listening to the editors describe their travels and their dreams, I was struck that everyone mentioned India, China or both. These are the two countries whose breakthrough moments came years ago, yet they are proving that their attractiveness goes far beyond the novelty of the unknown. Their complexity and variety are still largely unexplored.
China and India's outbound travelers are, with bold first steps, already changing the face of the global travel industry, and although its inbound activity had a few years' head start, its potential there, too, seems to be still be in infancy.
Contact Arnie Weissmann at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter.