Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

It seems like everyone I know has added Cuba to their bucket list. So I wasn’t surprised to see it on Travel Leaders Group's list of the top up-and-coming international destinations for luxury travelers this year.

I was a little surprised, though, to see Cuba made the list of a survey of luxury travel advisers that was conducted in November and early December, before President Obama announced plans to normalize relations with the country.

“It shows how much pent-up demand there truly is for legal travel to Cuba, particularly among luxury travelers who want an authentic experience before the country undergoes rapid change and modernization as a tourist destination,” said J.D. O’Hara, president of Tzell Travel Group, one of the Travel Leaders Group companies.

The other destinations luxury agents have identified as up-and-coming in 2015 include the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Croatia and Vietnam, and African safaris.

Nearly 90% of Travel Leaders Group's luxury agents report that their luxury bookings are higher than or the same as they were a year ago. And Europe is dominating 2015 bookings among the respondents who identified themselves as luxury advisers.

European river cruises topped the list for bookings outside North America, followed by Italy, Mediterranean cruises and France. Australia came in fifth.

“While there is an extensive list of ‘up-and-coming’ destinations that our luxury travel clients are booking that are more exotic, our high-end travel clients are very loyal to the upscale experiences and charms -- both old world and modern -- that Europe offers,” said Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben. 

In North America, luxury agents said Mexico was No. 1, followed by Caribbean cruises, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

Europe dominated again when travel advisers were asked to identify the region where the majority of their luxury travel bookings were made. Western Europe was No. 1, with nearly a fifth of respondents, followed by cruises with 19%, southern Europe with 17.9%, the United Kingdom and Ireland with 5.2% and the eastern Caribbean with 4.2%.

In 2014, cruises topped that list, followed by western Europe, southern Europe, the South Pacific and French Polynesia, and North America.

“The incredibly strong U.S. dollar, versus the euro, is already having an impact on travel to Europe,” said Patrick Fragale, president of Protravel International. “Luxury travelers are savvy, and while they may spend more than the average American they still want the greatest value for the money they’re spending.”

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