This spring, I attended Virtuoso’s annual symposium in Berlin, where 500 of the most knowledgeable travel advisors in the world met and mingled with the best hotels, tour operators, and travel suppliers — and set what’s next in travel.
Utilizing the data of its members, Virtuoso announced destinations that have seen a significant increase in sales and bookings. The top five countries are the ever-popular United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, France, and Italy. But here are destinations that should be on your radar, by continent, except for Antarctica. That cold, massive land mass is always hot.
Seeing the northern lights is easy in Norway, and they are one of its biggest attractions. (Photo: Ronal Reyes/Flickr)
Call it the “Frozen” effect: Norway bookings are up 65 percent. Diane B. Eide of Travel Experts points to the Disney movie as one of the reasons for the frenzy, in addition to stellar views of the northern lights. “The weather in the winter is better than the other Scandinavian countries,” she said. “On a recent visit, I saw the lights every night in Norway, but I never saw them when I was in Iceland. What scares people away is that it is one of the most expensive countries in Europe to eat and sleep. But the combination of hunting the northern lights, unusual adventure and beauty, tracing heritage and Norse culture is drawing people in.”
Related: WATCH: Frozen Tours to Norway Take Off as Film Tourism Reaches a Fever Pitch
The company Norwegian Adventures specializes in genealogy trips, and there are opportunities for out-of-the-ordinary adventure, like dog sledding, staying in a snow hotel, and crab safaris. Eide recommends taking the Norway in a Nutshell train through spectacular fjord scenery, calling it one of the “most beautiful train rides in all of Europe,” starting in Oslo or Bergen.
Toba Lake in Indonesia, an off-the-beaten-path adventure for in-the-know travelers (Photo: Jessica Siregar)
Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago of islands, is located in Southeast Asia just above Australia and is up 82 percent in bookings — and surprise, it’s not all about Bali. Jessica Siregar, of Connecticut-based Largay Travel, a Virtuoso and Tzell travel group, is half-Indonesian, raised in New England, and recently visited again this year. “It’s a spiritually rich country with amazing natural views of beaches, jungle, wildlife, and historical temples,” she said, “but at the same time there is a modern and busy city scene in Jakarta, with high-end shopping, dining, and nightlife.”
Siregar has seen an increase in wellness-focused trips to Indonesia, as well as an interest in traveling to the other islands. “My favorite islands are Bali, Lombok [a short boat or plane ride from Bali], West Java, and Sumatra. Sumatra is the largest island and is famous for its kopi coffee, rubber, and jungles. My secret ‘parts unknown’ destination is Lake Toba, which is totally off the beaten path for adventurous travelers only. There is a culture of being grateful and offering thanks to a higher power each day. To me, it is pure happiness.”
Related: Travel Guide:bali
Cape Town, South Africa, from above (Photo: Getty Images)
AFRICA: South Africa
The country is up 47 percent in bookings, and for Michael King of Great Getaways Travel, the number of his clients booking in South Africa has markedly increased. “Of significant impact is the currency, which is advantageous for many travelers, and more direct flights,” he explained. “With the World Cup in 2010 and Mandela’s funeral showing off the country in a wonderful light, there is a lot of good publicity. I was in Cape Town in 1998, and it was overwhelmed with problems, like waste management. Now they’ve worked through a lot of that, and the government has been stable for many years. You have incredible culture, world-class golf and dining, but can also see penguins, great white sharks, and whales in the bay during their winter.”
Sundowners on the incredible grounds of the Londolozi Reserve (Photo: Londolozi Game Reserve/Facebook)
The lodges of South Africa are equally compelling, including some of King’s favorites, Londolozi, Richard Branson’s Ulusaba, and Sabi Sands. “I can send people to the continent who want to experience Africa on a budget,” he said, “and people wanting to spend $1,500 a night. Part of the fun is placing clients in the right places for them.”
Related: South Africa: A Visual Exploration
The majestic Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort in Australia (Photo: Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort/Facebook)
AUSTRALIA: Wolgan Valley
Ian Swain, president of Swain Destinations, points to renewed interest from travelers who may have been to the country once but are now hearing about the new hotel and lodge offerings. “People want a very Aussie experience, which is all about the friendliness of its people,” he said.
One of the hottest regions right now is the Wolgan Valley, partly due to Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, a 40-room property that cost $130 million to build. Three hours outside of Sydney, Swain said, you feel “almost like a pioneer, with all the great walks and nature. It’s an incredibly special valley.” Elsewhere in Australia, Swain mentioned the new One&Only Hayman Island as a base to discover the Great Barrier Reef, as well as Qualia on Hamilton Island and Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island.
Quito, an impressive colonial city, proves that Ecuador isn’t just about the Galapagos. (Photo: Thinkstock)
SOUTH AMERICA: Ecuador
All eyes are naturally on Brazil with the recent World Cup and upcoming Olympics, but Ecuador has seen a 118 percent increase in bookings. For Emmanuel Borgio, president of tour operator Blue Parallel, most of his clients are going to the Galapagos Islands but are now combining it with a stay in mainland Ecuador. “There are new hotel properties and more options,” he said. “Quito is an impressive colonial city, the Florence of South America. Outside of Quito are beautiful haciendas where it’s possible to go just for the day and go horseback riding. The Highlands is one area I’d recommend, as well as the Amazon rainforest, with Sacha Lodge and Napo Wildlife Center.”
He also points to Cuenca as a beautiful colonial city that not many travelers visit and recommends staying at boutique property Mansion Alcazar. In the Galapagos, on Santa Cruz Island, he is a fan of Royal Palm (“nice, small luxury bungalows”), Finch Bay Eco Hotel, and the newest option, Pikaia Lodge. He also loves the boutique Iguana Crossing Lodge on Isabela Island.
The main cathedral in Centro Histórico del DF, Mexico (Photo: Carlos Ortega/Flickr)
NORTH AMERICA: Mexico City
Mexico City is my pick for the hottest destination in North America, after I recently spent a week discovering its incredible culture, history, restaurants, and hotels — and I’m not the only one. Travelers are shaking off old stereotypes and realizing just how easy it is to spend a few days in this massive, invigorating metropolis. (I felt completely safe, for instance; just make sure to have your hotel or restaurant call for cabs.)
I split my time between the small home-away-from-home Las Alcobas in the chic neighborhood of Polanco and the grander, more corporate Four Seasons Hotel Mexico, D.F. The neighborhoods of Roma, Condesa, San Angel, and Coyoacán are just a few of the many magical corners to discover in this city.
Annie Fitzsimmons is National Geographic’s Urban Insider and contributes to USA Today, Travel+Leisure, CNN, and Gotham/Hamptons. One day a month, you’ll find her leading a walking tour called “Brooklyn Heights 101” in one of her favorite New York neighborhoods — that is, if she’s in town.