When Lonely Planet published its Best in Europe 2019 list last week, it offered up some interesting insights into hip destinations on the rise that travel agents might consider.
Indeed, history has shown that just being named to the list makes a destination hot. Lonely Planet’s readers, who vote for their favorite destinations each year, are wealthy and well-traveled, with annual household incomes of about $135,000 and an average seven trips a year. Almost all (96%) have passports; 83% are college graduates; 95% have taken a vacation in the past 12 months.
For 2019, they voted for the following destinations: High Tatras, Slovakia; Madrid, Spain; The Arctic Coast Way, Iceland; Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bari, Italy; Shetland, Scotland; Lyon, France; Liechtenstein; Vevey, Switzerland; and Istria, Croatia.
While some of the travel agents with whom Travel Market Report spoke questioned who the respondents were and what exactly went into their decisions, others agreed that some of the destinations are wonderful, if not magical.
Travel agents respond
“These are the top destinations according to what criteria? Beauty remains in the eye of the beholder,” said Teri Hurley, owner of Endless Love Travel. But still, “there is much on the list to be excited about. If only we had enough vacation to see them all, and compare!”
Susan Williams, owner of Where2Now in Toronto, noted that despite the more “common” choices, she will be taking a second look at those that are “more off the beaten path and might inspire adventure and stepping out of your comfort zone.
Gwen Kozlowski, at Exeter International, said: “Those are some amazing destinations that are off the beaten track. High Tatras are gorgeous; Istria is a gem. Both are pretty undiscovered by American tourists, so they still feel authentic.”
As the destinations are incredibly different, choosing where to go is always going to be a personal vacation style issue, Hurley said. “Do you want to be in a big city like Bari, second to Naples as a busy seaside location; or would you prefer the remote beauty of Shetland (I am fascinated by this island) with its rugged coastline, abundance of wildlife and Viking history? Madrid, always a winner; and where in Switzerland do you not like? Croatia, people are still discovering; and Lyon has its share of devotees.”
While Betsy Bouche of Largay Travel Inc. agreed that the Shetlands is a great choice — "I'm a knitter and it's a hot spot for wool and knitting” — she would call Madrid “an old standard, not a Top 10,” and nothing else on the list interested her, she said.
Old or new, Madrid is a favorite of Dillon Guyer, owner of Guyer International, who said: “Madrid is one of those cities you can soak up in 72 hours, or spend 3 weeks there. The food is beyond anything else; the culture is localized and comforting; and the scenery within the city is historic and intrinsic in value. I would go back in a heartbeat.”
Just returned from “an amazing couple of days” in Madrid, Nancy Barkley, owner of Honeymoons and Getaways, recommended the Museo Nacional del Prado, which is celebrating its bicentenary — it contains 8,609 pianists, 700 sculptures and 54 masterpieces — and “an absolutely magnificent day trip to Toledo. My personal splurge is on professional tour guides; they make all the difference. The food and wine were wonderful as well, and the nonstop flights out of Philly are also a plus. I wish I had more time there.”
At Hometown Travels in Minneapolis, meanwhile, owner Sheila Michels reported that she has seen an increase in requests for Bosnia, Slovakia and Serbia this year, and has booked a few escorted tours there.
Limor Decter, of Ovation Vacations, also has seen “a great interest and value in the Balkans, Slovenia and Slovakia,” as well as the upscale luxury markets of Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia; Malta, Norway and Switzerland; and in Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Namibia and Uganda/Rwanda.
During a custom three-week, self-drive from Venice to Montenegro that Lori Molesky Foster booked this fall, her clients spent a good amount of time in Istria, specifically Rovinj. “It is a romantic town with vineyards, crumbling buildings, meandering streets, a strong history and a Venetian influence right on the shores of the Adriatic.” Her agency, Luxury Travel Associates Dream Vacations, also has had a lot of inquiries for the Balkans this year and will be broadening her knowledge of the area by exploring it herself this month.
Diane Frisch Destinations has had several requests for Madrid this year, and owner Diane DeWitt Frisch went there herself. “I love that it is a major European city with world-class museums, a beautiful park containing the Crystal Palace, a gorgeous castle, historic district, great food and culture … but generally at a lower price point than the other major European cities in Italy and France (my other big sellers),” she said. “I also love getting out of Madrid, for the easy trek down to beautiful Sevilla, and if at all possible, to visit the Alhambra. Usually we work in a side trip out of Madrid to see Sevilla and Granada ... and if time allows, of course, Barcelona. Trains are a great option in Spain for getting around.”
But Stef Katz of The Travel Superhero noted that the choice of a destination is a personal thing. “How is London not on this list every year? As Samuel Johnson said, ‘When a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life’ and I’d add ‘especially in the summer!’ An individual travelers’ preferences and interests are what determine his or her own hot list, nothing else.”
In short, Hurley said, “The world's a big place; I think everyone should make their own lists. And for travel advisors, as a profession, it should always be about properly matching the client to the right destination. That's part of our core skill set and responsibility.”