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USTOA in USA Today

Published Jan 4, 2016 9:00AM


2015 was a tumultuous year in which world events turned beloved travel destinations like Paris into temporary battlegrounds.

Will that keep U.S. travelers from venturing abroad in 2016?

The signs are pointing towards a resilient traveling public.

TripAdvisor, the travel review site, surveyed 2,250 Us.S. travelers in the wake of the Paris attacks at cafes and a concert venue and found that 90% were not planning to change their 2016 travel plans as a result. Of the 10% who said they would change their plans, 61% said they would avoid specific destinations and 35% said they would stick to domestic travel.

Antony Roman, president and founder of a global investigation and risk management firm, Roman and Associates, says travelers shouldn't be discouraged from seeing the world. But they should be cautious. His advise: When a trip,vary your daily routine, remain unassuming, use common sense, be alert and have a plan in mind should something go wrong. 

"We can't ignore the new reality, but we shouldn't stop living either," he says.

So where do the experts think U.S. travelers should head this year?

Brazil has been much buzzed about in the last few years because of its turn as host of the 2014 World Cup and this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janerio. 

But Lonely Planet looked even further ahead on the sports calendar when determining its Best in Travel 2016 winners and named Japan the No. 2 country to visit. (No. 1 was Botswana).

"Tokyo's successful bid to host the Olympics in 2020 has raised the temperatures of a feverish city amid a blue of new development," the guidebook declared, "but beyond the suburbs Japan remains as elegant and enticing as its graceful wooden temples."

Cuba will continue to entice travelers this year as the cold war with the USA thaws. 

The U.S. Tour Operators Association named Cuba its top emerging and off-the-beaten path destination followed by Myanmar, Iceland and Colombia. Ethiopia and Japan tied for fifth. 

It's been more than a year since President Obama began normalizing relations with the island nation. While traveling there as a tourist is still banned, those who fall under 12 U.S. - approved categories, which include people-to-people trips and humanitarian missions, can go via a complicated charter flight process.

It could soon get easier to travel to Cuba. At the end of 2015, the USA reached an agreement to allow regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two nations.

About 34% of the Tour Operators Association members already offer programs in Cuba. Of that number, more than half plan to increase their offerings in the next few years, says Terry Dale, president and CEO of the association. 

"With Cuba making headlines this year, its no surprise that it took the first spot in the list of emerging destinations," says Dale.

Farther down south, Ecuador made several industry lists, including Fodor's. The Latin American country has the benefit of having the U.S. dollar as its currency and the Galapagos Islands as its most famous attraction. But the capital city Quito is becoming a hot destination with its culinary renaissance. The government has made efforts to boost tourism by redeveloping blighted areas into commercial districts and increasing security in high trafficked areas.

Iceland made both the Tour Operators and Lonely Planet lists. What's the appeal? Think glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs, northern lights, and all sorts of other natural wonders. Add to that the ease with which to visit thanks to an Icelandair Stopover promotion that lets travelers spend up to seven nights in Reykjavik en route to their final destination at no additional airfare. And Iceland-based lo-cost carrier WOW Airlines continues to expand in North America.

U.S. hotel companies are also starting to see opportunities in Iceland, with Hilton introducing its new lifestyle brand Canopy in Reykjavik this year. 

Stateside, there are plenty of up-and-coming as well as longstanding popular destinations.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and there are plenty of commemorations planned at the 407 national parks leading up to the August 25th birthday. One notable celebration will take place at the new Arch Park at Yellowstone National Park, which provides views of the Roosevelt Arch, name for Theodore Roosevelt, a seminal figure in the creation of America's national parks. Last year the Park Service launched a Find Your park public awareness and education campaign to celebrate the centennial. 

Tour Operators named New York and California top destinations in a tie. Second place was also a tie between Arizona and Hawaii.

Hawaii, specifically the island of Maui and the city of Honolulu, also earned high marks among Travel Leaders Group, a top U.S. travel agency.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack on the island of Oahu. On Dec 7, the National Park Service and the U.S. Navy will host a commemoration ceremony.

Nashville is one U.S. city that is attracting new interest not just for its long-established music scene but because of the influx of new bright minds in the technology and health care industries. Hotel companies are also descending upon the city. Marriott planning a new MOXY hotel aimed at Millennial travelers, those in their 20s and early 30s. Hilton open a Canopy there. Virgin Hotels, a new chain that debuted last year, plans a property there.


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