Sunday, January 13, 2008
Welcome to the high-stakes, low-reliability world of travel trend predictions, where the battle for 2008's hottest world destination is as fiercely contested as anything going on in those exhausted primary states.
Face it, we all love lists. And every year around this time, the Travel section is bombarded by self-serving press releases touting the world's 10 hottest this and the 10 hippest that.
But do travelers' tastes really change that much from year to year?
Consider Egypt, which ranked No. 1 on iExplore.com's list of top travel destinations for both 2006 and 2007. The perennial front-runner has suddenly, mysteriously lost its mojo, at least if you believe the Web's 2008 prognosticators, who include everyone from Lonely Planet staffers to the folks at Concierge.com, Travelzoo.com and more. Only TripAdvisor.com, which got its top 10 list by surveying 2,500 travelers, included an Egyptian delegate: Makadi Bay, the country's glamorous Red Sea resort town.
In comparison, Thailand, the travel world's comeback kid, appears on multiple hot lists, including Travelzoo's 2008 "Hot Deal Destinations," i.e., places that supposedly will offer the year's best travel bargains. And like other countries mentioned on several lists, Thailand has lots of esoterica yet to be discovered by the masses, including the southern province of Phang Nga on the Andaman Sea and the island of Koh Phangan, both on TripAdvisor's list.
Can a country of 1.1 billion people be, well, "hot"? It can if it's India, apparently, which Lonely Planet's U.S. staff picked as a top destination, where "everything from Himalayan caves to Bollywood films is exotic," as one staffer put it. SmarterTravel.com is hot for India, too, in its case because of the new direct flights from New York to Mumbai offered by Continental and Air India.
But don't get the idea that hotness is simply an Asian phenomenon. Mozambique has its own online fan base, including Concierge.com, which applauds the country's 15-year transition from "bloody civil war" to "safari and scuba diving mecca." And Ecuador, thanks to the multimillion-dollar sprucing up of its capital, Quito, has the same site saying, "Move over, Argentina," while the market research firm TrendCentral.com traces Ecuador's newfound popularity to volunteer vacations being "on the upswing."
So what does this mean for your Disney World trip? Nothing, really. Hot lists are as much the product of wishful thinking and exotic one-upmanship as they are intensive research efforts. Then again, if Pigeon Forge, Tenn., is once more getting your travel dollar this year, consider this: The world's No. 1 travel destination in 2008, according to the Lonely Planet guys, is none other than the good old U.S. of A., while India is merely tied with Canada for No. 5.
In short, who needs Bollywood when you've got Dollywood?
-- Scott Vogel