Part of getting the best travel deals is about staying ahead of the curve.
The most exciting destinations in the world are often well worth all the hype. The Eifel Tower, Rome, Machu Picchu, guide books get it bang on. They're spectacular. They're also a great way to go broke. Follow the list of most-visited places in the world, and you'll have a heck of a vacation while spending a heck of a lot of money. That's just what happens when you visit popular places.
What to do about it? Visit the places that aren't popular yet. By keeping an eye on the destinations that haven't become mainstream yet, but which are just starting to attract attention, a savvy traveler can have the best of both worlds: all the appeal of a mainstream destination without the expense of an overburdened economy.
These are the vacations spots of the future, but for today you'll probably find some rooms still open. How to find them?
Try starting here. With data put together by Chicago Line Cruises, here are 11 of the fastest growing tourism spots in the world. The crowds aren't necessarily there yet, so you might want to take a visit while there's still time.
A note on the numbers: The growth rate for each country is the multiplier of how much tourism grew between 1995 - 2014. So, for example, a growth rate of 2 means that the country received twice as many visitors by the end of that period. We've compared it with the global average of 2.15 during that period, making these 12 countries that beat that global average.
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Growth Rate: 2.18
Nepal squeaks by into our top list by the skin of its teeth, coming in a mere 0.03 points higher than the global average.
There's a reason for that.
As a country, Nepal has a lot going for it. Tourists flock here every year to see the Himalayas, to climb Mount Everest and to tour the nation's many historic Hindu and Buddhist sites. These are so popular that the country is actually making preparations for literal traffic jams on the slopes of Mount Everest this year.
At the same time, crumbling infrastructure further degraded by a massive 2015 earthquake has made tourism increasingly difficult. Without the money to repair that impact, many of the roads and transport systems that Nepal relied on for its tourism base remains in bad shape. What's more, several of the temples that tourists came to see were damaged or destroyed. The upshot is a popular country watching some of its appeal wane.
Growth Rate: 2.78
To a certain degree China's place on this list seems lackluster. A growth rate of 2.78 (meaning that over the 20 years studied they received 2.78 times more annual visitors) places the country just a little above the global average of 2.15.
Don't let that fool you though. China may not have huge growth numbers but that's because it already dominates the global tourism scene. It's up there with the U.S., France, Spain and Italy among some of the highest-volume destinations in the entire world except, unlike those other countries, China is still growing its visitor base.
A lot of that has to do with accessibility.
The reasons to visit China have always been fairly self-evident, from the architecture and history of Beijing to natural wonders like the Rainbow Mountains and the Er Wang Dong caves. It's just always been a difficult country for getting to and around. Over the past several year's that's changed, as the country gets increasingly friendly to outside tourists both politically and practically. The results are in the numbers.
Growth Rate: 3.08
The UAE has meticulously built its reputation as a Middle Eastern playground and let no one say they don't deserve it.
Dubai in particular is known for its sheer improbability of design. At this point the city just seems built around a series of escalating dares, with architecture that includes:
- The Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building),
- The Burj al Arab, a hotel that features a sky-high tennis court and an underwater restaurant,
- The Palm Islands, a series of the largest manmade islands in the world constructed in the shape of a palm tree, and
- Plans for the world's first moving skyscraper.
If they changed the national motto to "hold my beer," it would almost make sense, except unlike a pack of drunken bar buddies the engineers in the UAE actually succeed at their plans. It's no wonder more and more people are flocking in to look and see.
Growth Rate: 3.21
Yes, that Haiti.
Seven years later this island nation still lives under the shadow of the earthquake that tore Port-au-Prince apart in 2010. It's such a dominant force that when Googling "Haiti," the second autocomplete includes "earthquake."
That's not enough to tamp down the island's appeal, though.
Consistently a major Caribbean destination, tourism to Haiti is particularly driven by cruise ship passengers. The upshot is a gorgeous island with a troubled past but a great tourism base. It is not, however, without its problems. Poverty-related crime remains rampant on this island, so make sure that trip you're taking is fairly carefully planned.
Growth Rate: 3.23
For some reason the whole world has spent nearly two hundred years overlooking Brazil. One of the largest countries in the world, arguably the most biodiverse country, an increasing power player on the global economic stage and oh yeah… a place that keeps the rest of us alive.
Well down in Rio they're finally starting to get their due.
Whether sun and sand, ecology or some of the world's most bustling metropolises, Brazil has a lot to offer tourists. In keeping with its status as an increasingly-newly discovered country, a trip to Brazil is also cheap. Decent hotels can run you less then $90, and for budget travelers a private guesthouse room can be had for as little as $25 - $30.
Saying "visit Brazil" is a little like telling someone to visit the United States. Sure you can cross the border, but there's a lot of ground to cover once you get there. So better get started.
Growth Rate: 3.57
Something of an anomaly on this list, Thailand is a popular destination that is only getting more so.
Already one of the world's great vacation destinations, Thailand has been getting even more popular thanks to many factors. These include (in no particular order) faded memories of the Vietnam War in America, a booming tourist market from China, increased stability and a massive local commitment to the tourism industry.
By now vacationers make up almost 20% of the country's economy.
In most cases this list is about the countries you should see now, before too many people arrive. In Thailand's case that's still true. Cheap as this country is to visit, it will only get more expensive as more arrivals flood in. At the same time, it's also important to consider the environment. Thailand's beautiful beaches and islands are steadily being destroyed with trash and over-development, a consequence of economic success.
Get there while there's still some sand to see.
Growth Rate: 3.67
Malaysia is one of the world's great food countries. A collision of Malay, Chinese, Indian, British and Muslim influences have left the country in dire need of people to help eat and experiment with all these dinner options.
In particular, no one who considers themselves adventurous about food in the least should miss Penang's food gardens. They are aptly named.
As a tourist destination, Malaysia's time is well overdue. Occupying (in part) the southern section of the Malay Peninsula, it has long been a favorite destination for western expats and backpackers in Thailand looking to renew their visas with a "border run." Now it appears that many of the vacationers on those nearby islands have started to look south, wondering where all those dirty hippies are going.
They're going to Kuala Lumpur, to Georgetown, to the Cameron Highlands and to one of the great recently-discovered countries of eastern Asia.
Growth Rate: 3.89
"There's a huge inter-Asia tourism industry," Kerns said. "There's a lot more mobility among those Asian countries and a ton of travel."
"At the same time, a lot of what westerners note as the classic destinations like the U.K., like Mexico, like Italy, like France are not growing," he adds. "They have high volume, but they're kind of like the old guard and they don't have anywhere near the growth many of these other countries have, primarily in the Middle East and Asia."
That inter-Asian tourism boom has rocketed places like Hong Kong to the top of the heap in terms of global arrivals, but that doesn't mean U.S. travelers are left out. Higher demand will mean cheaper airfares to this formerly-British holding, and local prices haven't yet gone the way of every tourist town the world over (not as much as they will, at any rate).
In other words, now's the time to see Lantau Island before all the hotel rooms are gone.
Growth Rate: 4.01
Nearly four times as many people visited Japan by the end of 2015 as did in 1994. Between 2014 and 2015 alone the country reported a 47 percent increase in arrivals. That's an impressive accomplishment for this relatively small, very expensive, island nation.
It's also a testament to the enduring appeal of Japan's food, culture and rituals.
Japan excels at being utterly and extraordinarily its own place, and that's rarer than many travelers would care to admit.
For all the miles we put on our shoes, it's often the case that the cities and towns begin to blur together after a while. Put someone down in Sao Paulo, Bogota or Lima and spin them around a few times and they'll probably be hard pressed to tell one from the other. The same with many streets in London, Paris, Vienna or Berlin. Japan though? There's no mistaking it for anything or anywhere else.
It also doesn't hurt that they are home to the world's best sushi. (Maybe…)
Growth Rate: 5.49
One thing should become apparent from this list: the fastest growing destinations in the world are neither in North America nor Europe.
The emergence of strong, stable tourist markets from Asia and the Middle East has upended the travel world over the past 20 years. Whereas recently regions like China, India and the Middle East only welcomed visitors, today they send out millions of their own.
Hotels and restaurants have begun adapting, reforming an industry that got used to speaking English and catering Western buffets. At the same time travel agents and airlines have begun to adapt to travelers who don't necessarily want to go to the same places as their American counterparts.
Yes, many want to see Paris and Stonehenge. Just as many (if not more) want to stay somewhat closer to home. Combine this trend with the tradition of annual Muslim pilgrimage and you have Saudi Arabia emerge as one of the countries with the fastest growing tourism bases in the world.
Growth Rate: 5.62
For centuries Constantinople marked the edge of the civilized world to most Europeans. The capital of the Holy Roman Empire and the bridge between Europe and Asia, it marked the end of what they recognized as home and where adventure and arduous travel began.
Well the world has shrunk quite a bit, but for many Americans and Europeans much of that same mystique remains. Turkey, and especially Istanbul, remain some of the most enduringly popular destinations in the world and, by far, the most increasingly popular.
"I was kind of surprised," admitted Andy Kerns, a spokesman with Digital Third Coast who helped assemble the data. "[But] Istanbul is one of the most resilient and popular cities in the world for tourism. Just that city alone, I think, is carrying the country a lot of the way through these ups and downs of instability. And also I think the Turkish Riviera is a popular region for more local people from local countries to go on vacation."
"Whereas we might think Americans and Canadians, and some people in Western Europe, are spooked to go visit Turkey, I think some of their closer neighbors are still using that [the Riviera] pretty consistently," Kerns added.