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Travel content creators hope you have no idea where to go next. At least they do in December when dozens of new travel lists for the upcoming year vie for your attention — offering advice on what places will be “hot” next year, what places offer the best value, and where you can go if you have $4,000 to toss around to stay one night on Marlon Brando’s old island.
Are they doing it right? And how do they do it?
To help the hunt, here’s a summary of trends spotted in the latest round of “where to go” travel lists from 10 travel publishers: AFAR, CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, Fodor’s, Frommer’s, Huffington Post, Lonely Planet (it has top cities, countries, regions, and U.S. destinations), National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Travel Zoo.
What Warrants a Mention?
Lists, which vary from 100-word blips to 700-word “how to” guides, rarely share how destinations are chosen. The sampled lists included 178 entries, which can be broken down into three categories.
The most popular pick for editors is a place linked to a specific event, anniversary or news-related topic, like the World Cup or the 100th anniversary of WWI (almost half of the total). Next are secondary destinations that appear overdue for a shout-out (over a quarter of the total, including destinations like Nicaragua’s Little Corn Islands, or Puglia, Italy).
Last is almost destination-agnostic, lists of new hotel sites or tours to plan a trip around (25% of the picks, including all of AFAR‘s list).
Cost or value only occasionally factors in.
Olympic Travel? Nyet
Two years ago, every major list included London, home to the 2012 Summer Olympics. This year, Sochi, Russia, found its way on only two. This lack of buzz is likely linked to Russia’s recent antigay laws, because it shouldn’t be cost (New York-Sochi flights on Aeroflot, from $850, are cheaper than many New York-London flights).
Burying Sochi deep into its list, National Geographic Traveler notes the controversy and quotes an unswayed cabdriver (“only in Russia can you make Winter Olympics in city with no snow”). Travel + Leisure, meanwhile, skips the controversy altogether in a mention of a $2,500 cruise.
World Cup Winner
Outside the USA, Brazil is the most popular country on 2014’s lists. Hosting the World Cup next summer, either Brazil or Rio made seven appearances on lists (four of which inform us “all eyes are on Brazil”).
And speaking of winners, Latin America as a whole is well-represented, tabbing 19% of all lists (not far behind the US or Europe), with Mexico and Ecuador (cited for good value and new chocolate-themed tours) the most popular destinations behind Brazil.
Apparently list-makers wish they all could be California. Nine times the Golden State gets listed (more than any country or state other than the USA), and only once for its coastline. The most popular choice is Palm Springs, thrice noted for its hip revamp of Rat Pack–era hotels.
A few other American surprises of note: Alaska and the Pacific Northwest get snubbed, while Michigan gets four mentions and Nashville three (all for its emerging foodie scene).
Europe’s Big Winners
Europe is the most-cited region across the lists (27% of the total), with Scotland its biggest winner. Appearing on six lists, Scotland has a busy 2014, including the opening of the 105-mile John Muir Trail and Glasgow’s facelift for the Commonwealth Games. A couple lists, however, bite on Visit Scotland’s less-than-unique “Homecoming” marketing campaign.
Absent Middle East
Northern Africa and most of the Middle East total only one listing: National Geographic Traveler’s daring inclusion of Arbil, Iraq, next year’s “Capital for Arab Tourism.” The piece talks up new hotels and development, while acknowledging the city “was marred by deadly violence in 2013,” though “many consider it a singular occurrence.”
Some note-worthy mentions include:
- Not ignoring Africa. East Africa factors into six of the 13 African listings, while only CNN Travel notes that Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda will share a single-entry visa beginning January 1.
- National Geographic Traveler noting that Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park’s 100th anniversary (in 2015) actually begins in September 2014.
- Lonely Planet’s head’s-up for a last chance at seeing a quiet Hokoruku, Japan, soon to be reached (and transformed, they figure) by bullet trains in 2015.
- Frommer’s following a new Dominican Republic highway to the beach resorts the other way, back to the overlooked, historic capital, Santo Domingo.
Lonely Planet’s #2 country, Antarctica, isn’t actually a country, and Conde Nast Traveler’s claim that there’s “never been a better time to go” to Disney World isn’t terribly convincing.
Frommer’s Civil War anniversary nod comes a year off; Gettysburg staged bigger events this year, and the anniversary of the fall of Richmond’s comes in 2015. Fodor’s breezy plug of Cartagena, Colombia – for several years now, a popular cruise stop and JetBlue destination – feels late, too.
Unfortunately few lists connect travel picks with ways of boosting economies hurt by recent events. Battered by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 (needlessly scaring off many tourists in summer 2013), the Jersey Shore gets three nods for 2014, all of which seem a year later than need be.
The biggest goof of all? Travel + Leisure’s slide on Rangoon, Burma (aka Yangon, Myanmar), which shows a Rangoon pic but describes a luxury tour to Bagan/Pagan, 400 miles north. Editor’s note: This has been changed on T+L’s website.