Who is going where this winter? And which destinations are trending?
Steve Lassman, vice president of villa product and agency relations for Villas of Distinction, ticked off 2018's five most sought after villa-vacation destinations, two of which -- Turks and Caicos and Jamaica -- are in the Caribbean.
"Villa bookings to the Turks and Caicos are growing rapidly, as guests are looking for islands with wonderful white sand beaches, staffed villas and award-winning restaurants, and the Turks and Caicos checks off all these boxes," Lassman said. With growing air service from the U.S. and Canada, "it's easier than ever to get there," he said.
He said that a villa vacation in Jamaica, meanwhile, "continues to provide the best value of any Caribbean villa experience. Staff, including a chef, butler, housekeeper and laundress are included in the cost of most Jamaica villas, making each villa personalized vacation with a staff to cater to everyone's need."
Another big draw for Jamaica is the variety of activities available, from snorkeling and scuba to hiking, ziplining and viewing Jamaica's 27 native species at the Rocklands Feeding Station wildlife attraction.
In its 2018 Luxe Report, Virtuoso advisers offered insights into 2018's biggest destinations and what to expect in travel for the year ahead.
Virtuoso's research showed that unspoiled natural beauty continues to motivate travelers, who also want to explore new destinations, push beyond their comfort zone and challenge themselves to try something unexpected, like swimming with mantas, shark dives, ziplining, ballooning or hiking.
All those activities can be found and experienced in the Caribbean, yet Cuba was the only Caribbean destination to appear on any of Virtuoso's lists of top global, millennial, family, emerging, adventure and honeymoon destinations.
Cuba fell into one of Virtuoso's top five emerging destinations, and the country's visitor numbers this year are evidence of its growing global popularity, including U.S. travelers. The island was expected to top 4.7 million visitors by year's end, up from four million last year.
I spoke with Ellen Carpenter, editor in chief of Ink's publications for United Airlines, Hemispheres and Rhapsody.
"Although some of the Caribbean islands experienced one of the worst hurricane seasons in recent years, many believe that the region will maintain its strong position in the vacation industry as islands recover and reopen, which several already have," Carpenter said.
"There are plenty of islands that endured minimal damage and are expecting a big year ahead," she added. "We are putting that message in many of our stories that appear in our publications."
She cited Puerto Rico as an example of one of the hardest hit islands, "but that doesn't mean one shouldn't go. Voluntourism is picking up steam as an important trend in travel, and we find that this type of travel experience is really appealing to millennials. There are many opportunities to help out and contribute on the islands still rebuilding and recovering."
As far as trending destinations, the Bahamas, specifically Baha Mar in Nassau, has generated reader interest and comment in recent months, according to Carpenter. Also on her readers' radars is St. Kitts and the Turks and Caicos.
Trending for Carpenter's readers who are Caribbean travelers are cross-generational trips involving grandparents and grandkids, large family gatherings and travelers seeking wellness information.
"The issue of sleep is a big trend now: how to get enough sleep, what products assure a good night's sleep, techniques to encourage sleep," she said, citing the Six Senses Spa Punta Cana at Puntacana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic as an authority in the sleep movement, with treatments designed to encourage good sleep habits.
Carpenter credited social media as driving a lot of travel decisions, especially to the Caribbean. "Most of the region is easy to get to from many U.S. gateways," she said. "People post their photos, others see them and it creates interest in the destination and the desire to visit. The region has a variety of accommodations at all price levels, and for the luxury travelers the choices are enormous."