As we round the corner into 2016 with the world in a state of uncertainty, the questions at the top of travelers’ minds are: Where to go? And how will the current state of affairs impact them?
Although answers vary from traveler to traveler, there are several destinations that are especially hot. Few places seem to be entirely off limits, although others are raising questions about what will unfold as the year progresses.
Here are some quick answers, according to a cross-section of tour operators and agents.
Cuba was the buzzword for 2015, and that is going to continue as travel policies relax in 2016. But the dynamic is quickly becoming one of luxury, as travel to Cuba is not a cheap affair.
“What’s happening in the year ahead is that Cuba is sold out,” said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya’lla Tours USA. “It’s more and more difficult to find space. But because of the heavy demand, and no change in the infrastructure — no new hotels, no new tour buses and no new tour guides — the pressure on the demand is such that the Cubans are handling it by raising prices. Cuba is expensive and becoming more of an expensive destination.”
For David Lee, travel adviser and Cuba expert with luxury travel agency SmartFlyer, the focus is on less-visited parts of Havana.
“One of my favorite things to do with clients is explore the off-the-beaten-path locations frequented by an ever-growing new class of Cubans: entrepreneurs, musicians and artists,” he said. “You won’t find many tourists in these locations, which range from highly stylized lounges hidden in old mansions to massive bars/art galleries, indie film and performance-art venues built inside a renovated factory."
Greece is trending in 2016, as well, and travelers are looking beyond the basics.
“Most agents are really comfortable selling Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, and, perhaps, Crete,” said Mina Agnos, president of Travelive, a luxury tour operator. “But as these destinations are reaching capacity and others are developing, there has been a shift toward considering more sides of Greece.”
Specifically, she said, travelers are turning toward islands such as Milos, Folegandros, Ios and Naxos, which are seeing impressive growth.
“Despite the economic situation in Greece this summer, 2016 is expected to be a busy tourism season for Greece and the islands,” said Konstantinos Bastas of Protravel International. “Nonstop airlift from the U.S. has increased by over 75% from last year with the additional flights added by Delta and United to Athens. European carriers also have announced new daily intra-Europe flights to Greek islands such as Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes and Corfu."
One question mark going forward will be Turkey, which is caught between a rock and a hard place with the conflict in Syria. There are numerous safety concerns with travel to eastern Turkey, but what will happen in a western destination like Istanbul is up in the air.
“We are hoping next year will be better than last year,” said Protravel’s Earl Starkey. “We had so much political uncertainty last year with two elections that it frightened away many potential clients. Turkey, and specifically Istanbul, remains on the top 10 list of most major tourism polls.
“We have a big increase in luxury hotels to offer clients in Istanbul, Cappadocia and Bodrum. We hope these hotels and attractions will tempt clients looking for a new destination. Turkey remains a safe destination for tourists, and tourists have not been affected by any of these crises.”
Paldi, however, disagreed. “Turkey is bleeding,” he said. “We just lost a pilgrimage tour to Turkey for early next year because of what went on in Paris.
“Turkey suffers a lot from ISIS and from the ISIS impact. People are concerned, although the distance from Istanbul to the Syrian border is about 1,000 miles,” Paldi said, adding that for next year Ya’lla’s Turkey bookings “are more than 50% down.”
“It looks like the lower-cost/mass products and group tours for Turkey are going to suffer this year,” Agnos said. “However, on a positive note, well traveled clients don’t seem to be staying away. Luxury clients are still considering Turkey. As long as cruises are arriving into Istanbul and Izmir or Kusadasi, the outlook for these areas is good. Also land-based itineraries for the U.S. market seem more focused on Istanbul in combination with Greece or with Izmir and Cappadocia for longer visits within Turkey."
Israel, on the other hand, “is doing really well,” said Michael Holtz, founder of SmartFlyer. “I think with a lot of the world dynamics out there, Israel is actually doing even better than expected. Israel is not only a destination for bar mitzvah and family trips, but is also great for couples and long weekends."
Ya’lla Tours’ Paldi said, “We hardly see the impact of the current terrorist attack on Israelis. We had 200 people in September, and next year should also be a good year for Israel."
Beyond these heavy hitters, there are few other destinations to keep on the radar for 2016.
“Mexico City is hot,” Holtz said. “A couple of years ago people weren’t traveling there because they were afraid. Now that’s not the case. There are great design-oriented hotels in Mexico City like Las Alcobas. Travelers also need to pass through Mexico City to get to popular secondary markets like San Miguel de Allende, so they will definitely make the stop.”
“When clients and advisers think of Mexico, some tend to lean toward Cancun or Los Cabos, but Mexico City has so much to offer for travelers of every kind: adventure seekers, history buffs, foodies and more,” said Erica Laskey, a travel adviser with Valerie Wilson Travel.
Myanmar continues to be popular, and more hotels are popping up in the capital, Yangon. Airlift to Yangon continues to improve, including direct flights from Bangkok, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Chiang Mai, Beijing, Kolkata, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul and Doha.
“While I have seen continued interest for 2016, it does not seem to be of the same level as it was last year,” said Daphne Bransten, business development associate and travel adviser with Valerie Wilson Travel.
“Perhaps that is because so many of my clients have now been to Burma, as it has been a hot destination for some time. It is a fascinating, relatively inexpensive destination. I especially love suggesting that clients see the region by river. I love Pandaw River Expeditions.”
Contributing editor Meagan Drillinger edits Travel Weekly's Mexico eNewsletter.