With a flip of the calendar, the truth lies before us: Summer is here! And after last winter, not a minute too soon. But every year means a whole new set of circumstances. Trends, financial situations, war, and simple capriciousness changes the travel game-board constantly. What was in 2014 may be out or even dangerous in 2015.
I sat down with Kurt Weinsheimer, VP of Business Development for Sojern, a company that monitors Internet searches for the destinations coming on to the field and those falling off. Summer for the northern hemisphere is big business: it's the home of the largest economies and the richest populations. As the temperature rises, Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Germans, and British are on the move. Weinsheimer gave me insight on where exactly they are moving. For trend-setters, and those that buck the trend, read on:
LA or Bust
The votes are in, the stats are tallied, and Los Angeles is the summer destination to rule over all. Sojern measures interest by region, North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Asia-Pacific, and while the City of Angels did not score the top spot across the board in each of those regions, it, unlike any other city, placed in the top ten for all. In this case, the law of averages won out.
Weinsheimer divides its appeal according to region: "Within the U.S., it is always a 'Top 10' travel market, just from the leisure and business standpoint. For Latin America, family connections and as a heavy leisure destination makes it really popular."
And despite being a whole ocean away, the relative proximity of Los Angeles makes it attractive to Asia, whose rising economies are allowing multitudes to venture forth. While two other U.S. metropolises, Honolulu and Anchorage, are closer and offer tropical finery or wild vastness, neither can compare to the sheer mythic glamour of Hollywood -- drought or no drought.
Cuba On My Mind
You may remember in a recent article I explored how Cuba is suddenly now the "in place." And for summer 2015, it remains so, if in a sort of aspirational sort of way. Other Caribbean destinations, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts & Nevis, the Dominican Republic, still far outrank Cuba with regard to Internet searches and feet on the ground, and the virtual wall of red tape courtesy of the U.S. bureaucracy still makes the island a difficult place to reach, but the sheer mystery of Cuba keeps it high on Sojern's radar.
"What is interesting overall all is we've seen 'bumpy' searches and demand for Cuba," Weinsheimer says. "So, while it was up 117% for searches in the U.S., it dropped down 20% in February, up again in March, and down again in April."
Why the roller coaster? As soon as potential visitors (at least, American ones) find how difficult it is to qualify for a trip, many lose interest for a less-demanding island paradise. Correspondingly, searches taper off. But Cuba is one of those destinations uniquely tied to the media--when there is a story about the country, interest goes up across the board. So it should come to no surprise that when, in April, Airbnb announced it would be hosting properties in Cuba, interest soared.
"And searches increased 73 percent on March 24," adds Weinsheimer. "Which was the day that EU and Cuba announced talks to improve relations."
The Arab Winter
What should come to no shock at all is that the Middle East and Maghreb (northern Africa) have taken a nosedive across the board when it comes to being a destination. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that a military junta in Egypt, a civil war in Libya, another civil war in Syria, an all-out war in Iraq, a proxy war in Yemen, a terrorist shooting in Tunisia, and an ongoing insurgency in Algeria has done a really good job of putting a bit of a damper on tourism traffic. What can I say? Travelers are fickle when it comes to personal safety.
But here is where I and Weinsheimer agree that just because there is strife in one part of the region does not mean the entire region, or regions, is going up in flames. A good example is Morocco, a country on the periphery of all the action and much calmer for it.
"African countries get very frustrated when they get bucketed into a broader regional issue," Weinsheimer notes. "I think you see a lot of that going on here. You have countries like South Africa trying to get the word out that, from a travel standpoint, things are just fine. But there is a lot of noise that they have to speak through."
It's not just South Africa and Morocco. Botswana, Namibia, a resurgent Mozambique, Mauritius, Ghana, and Zambia are just a few African countries open, safe, and ready for business. In the Middle East, Oman, Qatar, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates are all considered fairly boring as far as the U.S. State Department is concerned. And while the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is certainly cause for alarm, would a viral outbreak in Chile stop you from going to a vacation spot in Mexico? Probably not.
But perhaps all that counts as "too much." Europe, particularly the EU countries, have suddenly become big business, and if you've been watching the financial news, it is easy to see why: It's in a financial tailspin.
Take a gander at the financial pages. The euro is facing its biggest crisis since its vacation. Sovereign debt (Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain), bank bail-outs (Ireland, Cyprus), an the possibility that the United Kingdom may leave the European Union entirely have collectively yanked the euro so far down on the markets that the dollar, which has been climbing all on its own, is now about parallel in value. This makes the eurozone countries about equal for Americans. And they are coming by the planeload.
"The markets that we see are the most popular from a city standpoint are London, Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam," Weinsheimer tells me. "And when you look at markets for people coming from the Middle East and Africa, Africa, and APAC within Europe, the activity is much more driven around Spain."
Good news for Spain, which can needs all the help it can get.
The Long and the Short
So now we have a handle on where people are going (and where they are not) and where they would like to go. But how long are they staying? The answer might surprise you.
Of Sojern's regions, Middle Easterners are far and away the most likely to spend the most time on vacation in 2015. But, if you can believe it, it has nothing to do with their respective nations flying apart at the seams or that they may have money coming out of their ears. It is because it is hot.
"From a Middle Eastern-African standpoint, summer is a period where people are trying to escape the heat," Weinsheimer says. "We are talking about temperatures that can get to 110 to 120 degrees for weeks on end, so it is a popular time for people to take vacations. Middle Easterners head to Europe or elsewhere for extended periods of time. I think temperature has a big impact on the travel activity that you see from a length-of-travel standpoint."
It's a forgone conclusion people seek out warmer climes, but there is a limit, it seems. In other words, if you can't beat the heat, leave the heat.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Asia-Pacific region, which manages to cram all their vacation plans in to -- wait for it -- two days.
That's an average, of course, but even Weinsheimer admits this is a bit of a head-scratcher, but surmises that the isolation of the Asia-Pacific region from other world destinations, the largest ocean on Earth on one side and the deserts of Central Asia on the other, can hinder the bulk of the traveling population.
"Greater distances, greater travel times," he says.
Trends come, trends go. What does the pulling and pushing changes from year to year, but pulling and pushing goes on regardless of who or what is doing it. Pack your bags, do your research and enjoy! Summer is finally here!