Kurt Weinsheimer
Kurt Weinsheimer

In a previous article, Sojern identified the top-searched long-haul destinations at the end of 2015, looking into 2016. With the first quarter of 2016 over, we thought it would be a great time to take another look at long-haul travel in order to see just how the aspirations of the past few months have turned into reality.

For this follow-up, we focused on U.S. long-haul travel and looked at the major shifts in the Top 10 long-haul countries and cities. We also peeked into summer long-haul to see how the warmer months are inspiring travel and the potential differences therein. As our infographic and the details here outline, international travel continues to fluctuate as summer nears.

Strong dollar means Europe's 'on sale'

In Q4 2015 and into 2016, the United Kingdom was the No. 1 country for long-haul travel. It's also poised to be the top destination for summer long-haul travel.

In terms of long-haul cities, London, Paris, and Rome took the top three spots in Q4 and Q1. They remain the top three long-haul destinations into the summer of 2016.

The popularity of these European destinations may be tied to the strength of the U.S. dollar and the spending power U.S. travelers have abroad. According to XE.com, the euro has decreased relative to the dollar from $1.40 to $1.10 between March 2014 and March 2016, a 20% drop. This year has also seen a weak British pound: In August the pound was at $1.60, but by March it had dropped to $1.40. According to the BBC, the value of the pound has declined nearly 4% since the start of 2016, making it one of the worst performing major currencies.

Some argue that the U.S. dollar may have peaked, so we'll see if the "sale" will come to an end this summer or not.

Although from Q4 to Q1 the top destinations generally remain the same, there's a bit more fluctuation in the rest of the Top 10.

Destinations such as the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica trended down between quarters, with Costa Rica dropping completely off the list for summer travel.

As summer approaches, Caribbean destinations become quite hot and therefore slightly less popular for spring and summer travel.

France rebounds, Olympic fever rises

There are a number of long-haul spots that are heating up in 2016: Brazil, for example, rises to the Top 10 list for summer travel. Brazil is hosting the Olympics in August, and the movement onto the Top 10 list surely is a sign of the beginning of Olympic fever.

In Q4, France was at No. 6 but has leapt up to No. 3 in Q1 and is staying there for the summer months. We've previously analyzed search trends after the Paris attacks in November and saw it begin to bounce back; with the country moving back up the list, it seems travel recovery to France is in full swing.

Dreaming of new summer destinations

Looking forward to summer, the usual European destinations still dominate. However, Frankfurt and Athens make the list for the first time this year. We've talked in Travel Weekly before about the negative impact of Greece's debt crisis on travel to this classic destination.

Seeing Athens break the Top 10 for U.S. travelers is a great sign for tourism in that country and hopefully a first indicator of a revitalization of travel to Greece.

We will continue to keep an eye on international travel trends and the potential impact of currency fluctuations, economic and political turmoil and major events like the Olympics on travelers' aspirations. The reality is, despite a bit of fluctuation, long-haul travel isn't merely a dream for many Americans but something that continues to draw travelers throughout the year.

(Methodology: Sojern's analysis is derived from more than a billion traveler-intent data points, obtained from partnerships with some of the world's top travel brands.)

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