Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Welcome 2020, a new year and a new decade.

Where are travelers headed as they forsake snow gear for swimwear, abandon sleds for surfboards and head south to the islands?

I've seen the polls and surveys, the questions asked, the readers' responses and the experts' forecasts. Here are some of those results as well as several of my own observations.

Of the 20 or so global recommendations on Frommers.com's 2020 Go List of the most talked about places to visit this year, the Bahamas was the only Caribbean destination to make the cut, wedged in among the Indiana Dunes National Park, Maastricht in the Netherlands and the Poles, among others.

Although the ravages of Hurricane Dorian still are evident in the Abacos,  visitors will see that recovery and re-openings have proceeded at a pretty good clip on Grand Bahama Island. Even so, that still leaves more than 70% of the 700-island nation unscathed and open for business, according to the  Ministry of Tourism. 

Expedia reported a rise in bookings, room nights and tickets in the Bahamas' major tourist areas through November.

I'll be in Nassau this month and hope to see for myself the progress on Grand Bahama and to discover an Out Island not yet visited.

Keep an eye on the seven-square-mile island of Bequia in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, reached by a flight to Barbados or St. Vincent, followed by a puddle jumper plane ride or ferry transport.

Once there it's old-style Caribbean: charming and uncrowded, where the pace is slow  and a fishing boat or sailing craft always is ready for hire to the dozens of nearby cays and deserted islands.

Bengt Mortstedt, the owner and general manager of the 57-room Bequia Beach Hotel, described the island as "sleepy and reminiscent of the Caribbean of yesteryear. It is not for mass tourism."

My hope is that it never is.

Next up: Dominica. The Nature Isle of the Caribbean is another destination making headlines, and not just for its new luxury and rebuilt resorts including Secrets Bay, Jungle Bay and  Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski set alongside rivers, hiking trails, waterfalls and hot springs. The progress since Hurricane Maria destroyed  90% of the island in September 2017 is remarkable.

The tiny country is on track to curb the ramifications of future storms through its National Resilience Development Strategy to hurricane-proof the entire island, and its campaigns to Recycle-Rebuild and ban plastics are moving the destination toward sustainability.

A good indicator of where U.S. travelers are headed this winter can be gleaned from a recent survey by Allianz Global Assistance of the top 10 destinations for international travel during the holiday season.

Four of the 10 were Caribbean destinations and there weren't many surprises there. Nassau came in at No. 2, Montego Bay, Jamaica, was No. 5 and Aruba took the 7th spot.

However, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, at No. 9 was on the list for the first time since 2016. That finding came at a critical time for the Dominican Republic's tourism industry, given the significant visitor decline in Q2 and Q3 due to media coverage of tourist deaths at several resorts, later found to be of natural causes.

Firsthand reports from a number of travel advisors who visited several of Punta Cana's luxury resorts in December reported strong interest from travelers, which in many cases translated into solid bookings this winter and beyond, a trend they say will continue.

Barbados: Special events this year, including the 52-week "We Gatherin'" festival to celebrate Bajan heritage and culture taking place throughout the island, will likely be a big draw for visitors and a booking bonanza, as well, according to a report from Travel & Leisure.

Marriott International's recent acquisition of the Elegant Resorts' portfolio in Barbados is likely to fuel a rise in business, according to Adrian Grant, general manager of  Tamarind, one of the seven properties. "The bulk of our guests are from the U.K. but now we're seeing more bookings from the U.S. for this winter and spring," Grant said.

In its 10 survey of top international spots for travel in 2020, luxury travel agency Original Travel reported that Jamaica at No. 7 was the sole Caribbean destination on the list which included the U.K., Nicaragua, Kyrgyzstan and Chile.

Jamaica is always popular, and it has a lot going for it with more than 80,000 hotel rooms and more on the way. February looks to be a prime travel month for the destination, thanks to the 29-day, islandwide reggae celebrations and the 75 birthday of Jamaican native artist Bob Marley on Feb. 6.

Of the top 10 luxury villas that made waves for Villa Vacations in 2019, two were in Grand Cayman and one in Jamaica: two destinations booking strong in 2020 as well,  according to Steve Lassman, Villa Vacation's vice president.

With the 2020 planned reopenings of some of the larger resorts in St. Thomas following the 2017 hurricanes, the U.S. Virgin Islands will continue to build on the upswing of travelers in 2019, according to commissioner of tourism Joseph Boschulte.

Also fueling bookings will be the increased airlift to the territory this winter, both for St. Croix and St. Thomas.
The destination reported close to a 50% increase in stayover arrivals in 2019, a clear signal that tourism in the destination is on a strong rebound and that visitors are responding.

Puerto Rico is on pace for a record-breaking 2019 in visitor arrivals, once the final figures are tallied, according to Discover Puerto Rico.

That surge is continuing as more lodging inventory comes on stream this year with new builds and re-openings. More than 15,500 rooms currently are open and accepting reservations.

High visitor counts in 2019 and projected volume going forward this winter in St. Kitts & Nevis, the Turks and Caicos, Grenada, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Maarten/Martin, St. Barts and Antigua and Barbuda also speak to who's going where to toast the tootsies and flee the deep freeze back home.

For travelers having difficulty deciding which of the 37-plus Caribbean countries to visit or where to drop anchor on a private beach among the 3,000 or so islands and cayes within the region, the pop culture PopSugar site recommends leaning into zodiac signs to pick and choose.

Spoiler alert: Scorpios (Oct. 23 to Nov 21) are best suited for the sights, sounds and foods of the Caribbean, specifically those found in Aruba and the Dominican Republic.

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