Published On: Sat, Dec 31st, 2016

TravelPulse Staff Picks: 12 Destinations That Crushed it in 2016

PHOTO: Iceland was a standout destination in 2016. (Photo courtesy Thinkstock) 

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Every year, there are a number of destinations that surge to the forefront of the travel industry and, in 2016, there were several hotspots that has been on the tips of travelers’ tongues all year. Is your Instagram feed blowing up with photos of Icealand, the Caribbean or Chile? Don’t be surprised, because these are just a couple of the destinations that crushed it this year. 

Below TravelPulse editors explain why some destinations made it big in 2016. 

MIKE ISENBEK, SENIOR EDITOR: All-inclusives in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean totally crushed it in 2016. It could be said that they crush it every year, (as they are wildly and perennially popular with vacationers), but to stay competitive, each hospitality company running these all-inclusives is constantly renovating and refining properties, and dreaming up new ways to serve and entertain customers — definitely a “crushing it” situation. 

JANEEN CHRISTOFF, SENIOR WRITER, DESTINATIONS: When a country can claim more visitors than its own population, you know they are crushing it — and that was Iceland. The country that took a natural disaster and turned it into a tourism win is relishing in its tourism successes and one of the things that keep the country on the top of bucket lists is all of the extraordinary sights one can behold when visiting. As Iceland continues to innovate in the visitor space and grow with new hotels and experiences, it will probably be continuing its trajectory to the top. 

BRIAN MAJOR, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, CARIBBEAN AND LATAM: After years of flagging visitor arrivals, Bermuda tourism stakeholders experienced long-sought success in their efforts to restore the country’s tourism growth. Visitor arrivals by air totaled 68,462 in the first half of 2016 according to Bermuda Tourism Authority statistics, a 10 percent year-over-year increase compared with the first half of 2015. 

The first-half 2016 arrivals also represent the largest number of airline visitors to arrive in Bermuda since 2008, said BTA officials. Vacationers spent $ 69.3 million in the second quarter of 2016, a 15 percent increase over 2015, while hotel occupancy increased 2.7 percent and cruise arrivals increased by 3.0 percent according to BTA. Airline seats dedicated to Bermuda increased by 10.6 percent during the quarter. 

Despite significant damage to some resort areas from Hurricane Earl, Belize posted another strong year of arrivals growth in 2016. Overnight visitor arrivals between January and June of 2016 totaled 213,430, a 16.5 percent increase over the same period last year, according to Belize Tourism Board (BTB) data. The first half was Belize’s first-ever to reach 200,000-plus arrivals. 

Propelled by a 193 percent increase in airline capacity traveling to the country during the peak December-to-March period, Martinique posted a robust 8 percent increase in year-over-year visitors in the first half of 2016. 
The air seat spike from Norwegian Air, which offers nonstop service to Martinique from New York, Boston, and Baltimore/Washington, D.C., plus additional service from American Airlines, which expanded its nonstop Miami-Fort-de-France flights, represent the first time Martinique has been directly accessible from the Northeast in more than 20 years, said Muriel Wiltord, director Americas for the Martinique Promotion Bureau. 

Chile stood out among Latin American destinations as first-half 2016 tourist arrivals data easily reached the lofty levels targeted by tourism officials following a record 2015. A total of 2,837,315 travelers visited the South American country in the first six months of 2016, a 28 percent increase over the same period last year, according to tourism ministry officials.

The surging arrivals have accelerated Chile’s tourism growth to unexpected levels. Officials now anticipate reaching 5.6 million international visitors by the end of 2016 after saying earlier this year they hoped the destination would reach five million annual visitors by 2020.

GABE ZALDIVAR, SENIOR WRITER, TECH TRENDS: This might sound like I’m a bit of a homer, but 2016 was, in so many ways, the year of the National Parks. Yes, the National Park system turned 100 this past summer, which meant a year-long push to highlight the splendor of this country’s most beautiful landscapes and natural treasures. But it was still remarkable how well the campaign did for travel, touching nearly every corner of the industry. In time, it was nearly impossible to escape some sort of spotlight on a natural national wonder. As the year comes to a close the only regret some of us may have is that we failed to amble one of these amazing parks. Thankfully, they will still be there in 2017. — Gabe Zaldivar

PATRICK CLARKE, SENIOR WRITER, BREAKING NEWS: My visit to Boston in early 2016 stood out for several reasons. The city boasts so much history and is gorgeous to look at whether you’re driving or walking. There’s delicious food and beer and stellar views at Harpoon Brewery along the Boston waterfront and the atmosphere inside Frost Ice Loft is unparalleled. I also had a great time Pittsburgh this year, even though I wasn’t able to stay for as long as I hoped. The Steel City is a must for foodies and there’s no better downtown experience than visiting the open-air rooftop bar Il Tetto at Sienna Mercato in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. 

DONALD WOOD, SENIOR WRITER, BREAKING NEWS: For theme park enthusiasts, one of the destinations that crushed it in 2016 was Busch Gardens in Williamsburg,Virginia, which was named the “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park” by the National Amusement Park Historical Association. The park has earned the honor each year since 1990 and proved it again in 2016 by offering guests quality entertainment in a gorgeous setting.

MICHAEL SCHOTTEY, SENIOR EDITOR/WRITER: Brexit is going to be a story that will have a ton of impact not only on England but the entire world economy not only in 2017 but potentially for decades to follow. In 2016, however, it was just a huge political horserace followed by an equally big run on London travel and shopping thanks to a falling pound. I don’t want to make light of the potential consequences the move could have for the city and its people, but every cloud has a silver lining and a greater interest in London has been huge over the second half of the year.

BARRY KAUFMAN, MANAGING EDITOR: Iceland is blowing up right now for the craziest reasons. Millennials (sorry, I know we’re all more than a little sick of that term) have discovered this vastly fascinating country, and furthermore they haven’t been shy about sharing pictures. In the Venn diagram between “obscure enough to seem like an adventurous destination” and “safe enough that we won’t have to eat anything weird,” Iceland has found the Instagram generation’s sweet spot.

RICH THOMASELLI, SENIOR EDITOR, CSP CONTENT FULFILLMENT: Mexico. The fares from almost anywhere in the U.S. are reasonable and it features some of the best all-inclusives in the world. Our trip to the Iberostar Grand Paraiso in Playa del Carmen was simply outstanding. It was easy to get to, easy to get around, the property was terrific and the town was accessible and offered tons of restaurants and bars and shopping.

DAVID COGSWELL, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, TOUR OPERATORS:Europe struggled in 2017 because of several high-profile terrorist attacks that made many people fear that it was not safe. There was some shift in demand from Europe. Some of that demand turned back to the U.S., which boomed for tour operators in 2016. Some of that was related to the National Parks Centennial and a general increase in appreciation for the parks in recent years. Some was because of people who decided to stay in the states rather than travel to Europe.

Demand for South America was also hampered not by terrorism but by the Zika virus. As with most waves of hysteria, the fear of the virus was way out of proportion to the actual threat, which was minimal and geographically limited.

Both Europe and Latin America are starting to recover from their respective waves of fear and tour operators are expecting business to normalize in 2017, all things being equal. And of course they never are, but perhaps in balance things may be equivalent).

Meanwhile Africa, which was hammered in 2015 by fear of the Ebola virus in West Africa, has been charging back. The relative lack of terrorist concerns, the great strength of the dollar and a general ongoing expansion of travel frontiers for Americans have combined to help push Africa’s tourism destinations back up. Kenya has emerged from tough times. Tanzania has been moving from strength to strength. South Africa is experiencing a boomlet. Botswana is virtually sold out. Uganda and Rwanda are rising on the tourism horizon as travelers seek new frontiers and less crowded destinations.  

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