Editors' Pick: Originally published Dec. 28.
As a result of several high-profile attacks around the world, terrorism has become a concern among countless international travelers in a way that it has not been in years past.
Add to that the uncertainty associated with climate change and the growing frequency of natural disasters, and you have yet another source of hesitation among globe trotters when it comes to travel in 2016.
And while industry experts insist that bookings remain steady, or perhaps busier than usual in a show of solidarity with affected countries, there is no denying a shift in patterns among large swaths of the traveling population, one that's more than likely tied to the past year's events.
"You can tell that the terrorist attacks in Paris, the economic collapse in Greece, all of those events have put a bit of a wet blanket on Europe," says Krista Canfield, getaway expert for Gogobot.com, a travel app that racked up 10 million users in the past year. "I do think it's taking a toll. It's definitely having an impact on our list of rising stars this year. You're not seeing destinations from Europe on the list. Instead you're seeing people stay closer to home. Or folks who are in Europe, are heading west for vacations."
Each year California-based Gogobot releases a list of up and coming travel destinations, which is based on the activity of its site members and the reviews members post.
The number one rising star destination for 2016, according to Gogobot users, is something of a comeback kid - New Orleans. It's a city whose tourism industry was hard hit, if not all but eliminated, by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and later by oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.
Also topping the list of emerging destinations in the Gogobot world are Montreal, Quebec; Houston, Texas; Chang Mai, Thailand; Memphis, Tenn.; and Mexico City, Mexico. Rounding out the top ten destinations are Raleigh, N.C.; the Dominican Republic; Sacramento, Calif.; and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Some of the destinations among the top ten for 2016 may seem a bit surprising at first blush, but travelers who are left feeling a bit unsettled by recent global events are looking for destinations that have the appeal of the world's most popular cities, yet exist somewhat under the radar, explains Canfield.
"When asking people for their short list, it's probably not as likely that you will come across someone who recently went to one of these places," she says. "But people are revisiting some places that had fallen off the map."
Take Sacramento, for instance. For those in Northern California, the state's capital is a quick, easy day trip and one that includes a wealth of different museums, a national basketball team (for the die hard sports fans) and a vibrant jazz and film festival. All of which has led to an uptick in reviews on Gogobot for the city.
New Orleans meanwhile, is a destination that many travelers feel has gotten back on its feet and as a result, people want to be there for vacations.
Another report providing insight into the feelings of travelers was recently released by CMO Council, in conjunction with AIG Travel.
The report, titled "How Global Voices Shape Travel Choices: The Impact of Consumer Apprehension on Travel Intention," is based on insights from a survey of more than 2,000 leisure travelers, fielded by the GeoBranding Center and Travelzoo. It also includes interviews with executives at Kenya Airways, Turkish Culture and Tourism, Air Arabia, Malaysia Airlines, Sao Paulo Tourism, the German National Tourist Office, the Israel Ministry of Tourism and others.
The resulting picture painted by the report is one in which health and safety weigh heavily on the minds of travelers.
"As leisure travelers are looking at travel plans, they are absolutely changing where they want to go based on their perception of what they consider safe and unsafe," says Liz Miller, the report's author.
The number one issue travelers are concerned about, when it comes to their safety, is acts of terrorism, according to the report. Also among travelers' fears are military conflicts and illness outbreaks.
The CMO Council found that one in four travelers changed vacation plans in the past year due to global or local safety, security or health concerns-and terrorism activity topped the list of reasons tourists will avoid travel to certain destinations.
"If you start to think about it, it's all the headlines," Miller adds.
In light of such fears, the report found that the top destinations for the coming year include such places as Australia, the Maldives and the Canary Islands.
"When people look at Australia, it's not in the headlines every other day," Miller explains. "What was Australia in the headlines the most for? It was the country that helped out the most with finding the missing Malaysian plane...People can ask the question - 'What can I do in Australia?' And the answer comes back as: 'Anything.' "
Yet another travel industry insider observing far-reaching consequences tied to the past year's disturbing headlines and violent events is Greg Geronemus, co-CEO of New York City based Smartours. He says demand is clearly down for European countries such as France and Belgium and beyond, but don't mistake that to mean travel is declining as a whole, at least not among Americans.
"We book travel on value-oriented tours all over the world," he says. "We're spread across Europe, Asia, Africa and South America...So it's very clear to us when people are favoring one destination over the other or when people are more excited about travel or less excited about travel. We have 20 years of historical data."
Of course anxiety in the wake of an attack in a particular location is not necessarily deterring travelers from booking trips overall.
"What's fascinating is the resilience of the American traveler since Paris," Geronemus says. "In the four weeks post-Paris, relative to those same four weeks the previous year, we actually had more booking activity overall. But we saw significantly less activity in Europe over that stretch, which is typically a very active time for booking Europe. People were instead saying, 'Not this year for France, and Belgium as well.'"
France and Belgium aren't the only countries people are passing over for the time being. The hesitation or concern about safety has spread beyond just those two destinations.
"We've seen it extend to certain parts of eastern Europe, certain parts of Croatia, which had been on a really positive trajectory for a long time," Geronemus says. "It is not getting the kind of love it once did...People are scared. Historically they've run to Europe. Now they're going to other places."
Where exactly are they going, according to Geronemus?
His list of up and coming destinations differs slightly from that of Gogobot users or the CMO study. Based on tour bookings through Smartours, South Africa, Japan, Cuba, Dubai and Abu Dhabi will all be hot destinations in the coming year.
The Ebola scare put a dark cloud over South Africa for quite some time. But with that now a distant memory, travel companies suddenly find themselves working through pent up demand for the destination.
Japan is also highly regarded among travelers, viewed as a peaceful destination, one that offers a serene atmosphere and a place where the U.S. dollar is strong, relative to the yen. Cuba meanwhile, is becoming one of the sexiest destinations on the planet now that relations have warmed between the U.S. and the island nation.
"It's that forbidden fruit," Geronemus says. "People might have their reservations about politics or the current regime, but it's not viewed as dangerous."
Last but not least, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The two might seem like an odd choice at a time when travelers are expressing reservations about Middle East or Near East destinations. But those reservations are apparently very compartmentalized.
"There is this sense that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are distinct or isolated from the region. One of our best sellers in the last month or so is Abu Dhabi," Gernonemus continues. "There are a lot of similar things between the two of them. A lot of it is about the biggest, the best, the newest, the tallest. There's some beautiful mosques and beautiful big buildings that are extremely modern."
Myanmar (formerly Burma) is another destination that's becoming trendy according to travel industry insiders. A country that recently emerged from more than 50 years of isolation from the western world, it is often compared to what Thailand was like decades ago. But the country is changing rapidly, and travelers eager to see its thousands of gilded pagodas are rushing to visit now, like never before.
As for European destinations, Geronemus and others predict that the shift away from those once wildly popular choices that regularly topped every traveler's list, is not likely to last long.
"I have no reservations about booking people to any of those destination that I mentioned are being affected," Geronemus says. "It's a just a matter of staying on top of facts and assessing the risks. But this is the reality: people are shifting their behavior."
Of course, the good news is that traveling is by no means drying up; consumers are still eager to travel and are pouring money into the domestic economy and the world economy as a result.
For those who are planning travel in the coming year or beyond, and who perhaps remain skittish or uncertain, consider buying travel insurance, suggests About.com's travel insurance and safety expert Joe Cortez.
Many travel insurance policies offer a benefit for terrorism or political unrest that will help with such things as emergency evacuation and medical needs. What's more, the sooner you buy travel insurance, the better, Cortez explains.
"Buy it early, within 28 days of putting that first deposit down on a trip. Then you qualify to upgrade to a 'cancel for any reason' benefit, which allows travelers literally to cancel the trip for any reason, even reasons outside the parameters the insurance companies have set," Cortez says. "It will add to the cost of a policy, but if you are traveling to a less secure area in the world, it's cheaper to pay the upgrade fee then be out thousands of dollars on non-refundable airline tickets and tours."
Still with all of that said, Cortez points out that the traveling public's safety fears may have grown a bit oversized. He points to statistics issued by the U.S. government as reassurance.
"Something to consider is that these high-profile situations -- like the attacks in Paris
and Mali -- are anomalies to the overall rule," continues Cortez. "Travelers have a much higher chance of getting killed in an automobile accident while abroad instead of a terrorist attack, according to the State Department."
Echoing many others in the industry, Cortez stresses that the most important thing to do when traveling abroad is to remain alert and aware of your surroundings.
And perhaps as further reassurance, Cortez notes that travelers can expect to see heightened security on all fronts as they travel around the globe in 2016. There will be a lot more in the way of airport security, both at home and abroad. The increases will go above and beyond what is experienced at TSA checkpoints to include U.S. Customs and Border Protection check points, particularly when traveling through sensitive areas in the world. Travelers can expect to be peppered with more questions about their reasons for a particular trip, what they did and whom they spoke to while abroad.
Travelers may just feel like is par for the course, when it comes to the changing world in which we live.
"There is an attitude among a lot of people that this is the new world order," concludes Geronemus. "People feel like 'I'm going to travel and continue to work down my travel bucket list.' But if I was planning on going to France this year and on a safari the next, I might switch the order of those two things. Post 9/11, people were in complete shock and fear. But people now have become more desensitized and resilient. They are going to live their lives and not let ISIS win."