Trends, new groundbreaking attractions, law changes, and amped tourism campaigns can drastically alter the travel landscape. Although countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom and Singapore have consistently been popular with travellers, there are new “hot” destinations rising to the tops of bucket lists every year.
With over 300 million annual visitors to HotelsCombined, we’ve revealed the top 20 most popular travel destinations, many of which may come as a surprise. From the Netherlands and Greece to Cuba and Saudi Arabia, there’s reason to wonder how some previously underrated destinations have created even greater pulling power than the seemingly “unmissable” travel hotspots.
Whether it’s related to growth in family-friendly attractions, a vibrant culture or a removal of travel restrictions, we’ve uncovered why these top 20 travel destinations are so alluring. Read on to find out why every traveller should visit these countries at least once.
The 20 Most Popular Travel Destinations
Located far from the world’s biggest cities, Australia is for many a faraway land with incredibly rare wildlife, attractive beach culture and mesmerising natural landmarks. Travellers are typically drawn in by the country’s culturally rich cities like Sydney and Melbourne, Great Barrier Reef, and iconic Australian Outback. However, it seems two previously secondary destinations are catching travellers’ attentions as of late. According to the Courier Mail, the Northern Territory has seen a 26 per cent increase in Japanese visitors this year with its creative tourism campaigns highlighting unmissable attractions that include crocodile safaris and Nitmiluk National Park. South Australia was also ranked in the top five regions of the world by Lonely Planet this year, partly due to its appealing wine country, produce festivals and uncrowded beaches.
2. United States of America
Although there’s been a slight drop in US visitors, this premier travel destination is still one of the most popular around the world. For years people have seen this country as the “Land of Opportunity”, where it’s possible to surf and ski on the same day in California, cruise the Mississippi on a riverboat in New Orleans, or dine among A-list celebrities in New York. It’s not just the main cities like Los Angeles or Miami attracting travellers, as The Telegraph recently highlighted Philadelphia, Austin and Charleston as new favoured destinations.
Greece has weathered the storm of its economic crisis, pushing back with its booming travel industry. The country lowered the cost of hotels and made sure the travel experience for visitors remained rewarding, attracting people from around the world. To be fair, the rest of the world should’ve never doubted Greece’s pulling power, thanks to its picturesque beaches, historic sights and quaint island towns. In fact, HotelsCombined bookings to Greece increased by more than 17 per cent compared to last year. Popular publications, such as The Huffington Post, also supported the country with numerous articles highlighting reasons to visit Greece, including The Acropolis, Crete and the Ionian Islands.
A holiday destination for all seasons, that’s how many travellers see Japan these days. Cherry blossoms in spring, festivals and fireworks in summer, colourful autumn leaves in autumn, and skiing in winter; Japan is full of fun and adventure year round. Travellers have picked up on this, with a consistent interest for holidays in Japan every month according to HotelsCombined bookings. Lonely Planet also listed Hokkaido, Japan as its top Asian destination for 2017, which isn’t a surprise considering the island is home to snow festivals, heavenly hot springs, vast national parks and eclectic coastal cities.
With its hot springs, friendly locals, diverse mountain terrain, eclectic festivals and breathtaking islands, no one could’ve expected Taiwan to remain an under-the-radar destination for long. The country is experiencing a well-earned rise in popularity but remains a very affordable holiday destination. According to local Indian news provider, Zee News, Taiwan has also become more popular with India, the second-largest population in the world, thanks to low-cost airfares with Scoot Airlines and a greater variety of accommodation.
6. United Kingdom
Interest in the United Kingdom has picked up significantly since Brexit. Britain’s decision to separate from the European Union has made it more affordable to visit the UK now than the last two years. This classic holiday destination is still as incredible and accessible as ever. From Scotland and Northern Ireland to Wales and England, the United Kingdom boasts a range of beautiful nature and historic cities. London is still also one of the most captivating cities for both first-time and experienced travellers, offering Michelin-starred restaurants, world-renowned attractions and unique monarchy culture and history.
Lonely Planet just named Perak in its top 10 travel regions for 2017. This widely unheralded region of Malaysia is just one of the many reasons we’ve seen a 26 per cent increase in HotelsCombined bookings to the country. Part of a growing popularity in Asian countries, Malaysia is a cultural melting pot filled with tropical beaches, wildlife sanctuaries and unimaginable cave environments. Tourism Malaysia is also committed to attracting visitors through partnerships with leading airlines and niche tourism experiences such as immersive homestays, according to Travel Daily Media.
8. United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates packs a lot into its small landmass. Dubai and Abu Dhabi may be two of the most opulent cities in the world delivering luxury, adventure and culture unlike anywhere else. In Dubai, visitors can combine world-famous attractions such as Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall with skydiving and desert safaris. Abu Dhabi, however, delivers zoos, traditional markets and eco tours. Dubai’s plan to build the world’s biggest theme park by the end of 2016 will officially establish it as the theme park capital of the world, attracting more and more families.
Indonesia has had its ups and downs with holidaymakers over the years but has enjoyed relatively consistent popularity recently. One local travel guide attributes this to the country’s diversity. With more than 18,000 islands, including holiday hotspots such as Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia is considered the most varied archipelago on the globe. The Indonesian Rupiah offers travellers a favourable exchange rate, making this an ideal destination for both budget-savvy and luxury-inclined travellers to stretch their dollars. Whether it’s surfing in Bali, diving off Lombok or hiking volcanoes in Sumatra, there’s an affordable holiday for everyone.
Thailand has recently veered away from promoting its party scene, instead focusing on the delicious street food, immersive railway trips, island excursions and vibrant festivals. However, for most travellers, the biggest reason to visit Thailand is its promise of a cheap and rewarding holiday. In November, Travelers Today highlighted Chiang Mai as one of the best Thai destinations for budget-savvy travellers. Not only can visitors enjoy meditation retreats, visit majestic Buddhist temples or bathe an elephant in an animal sanctuary, they can also purchase meals for less than $1 and stay in top hotels for a bargain price.
11. Hong Kong
With a 26 per cent increase in HotelsCombined bookings this year, it’s safe to say Hong Kong is enjoying an influx of visitors, but what is responsible for the sudden boom in its popularity? Is it the shopping, the incredible food, the revamped Global Geopark, the renowned museums or the stunning waterfront city skyline? Clearly, all of these elements and more have lured travellers to Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong has seen many expats leave over the last year, as reported by South China Morning Post, there is still a wonderful blend of Asian and Western cultures and is a big selling point for inexperienced travellers and future expats.
Hosting the 2016 Olympics gave Brazil a large enough boost in visitors for it to jump a few countries on this list. Couple it with the 2014 FIFA World Cup and it should come to no one’s surprise that this South American country knows how to welcome holidaymakers from around the world. Brazil also has more than enough sights and experiences outside of its big events to keep the tourists coming. The iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, breathtaking Iguazu Falls and numerous beaches located on the east coast are reason enough for a visit.
Earlier this year Travel Zoo named Singapore “The City of the Future”. It’s a sentiment many travellers are expressing about this international holiday sensation. Along with its man-made Gardens by the Bay attraction, Singapore is also home to an infinity pool and bar 57 levels high at Marina Bay Sands. Sentosa Island is another big attraction with its luxurious resorts, golf courses, beaches and the Universal Studios Singapore theme park.
Since opening up to American travellers, Cuba has gone from relative obscurity to one of the most sought-after holiday destinations. At HotelsCombined we’ve seen a 120 per cent increase in HotelsCombined bookings as more and more travellers visit the country famous for its rum, cigars, white-sand beaches, vintage cars, live music and old-world architecture. Along with attracting more Americans, the law change also increased Cuba’s appeal with other countries as people pushed to visit before the crowds arrived.
15. The Netherlands
For many, the Netherlands remains one of the world’s most alluring destinations. The country’s laws, history and infrastructure separate it from anywhere else in Europe. A single visit to Amsterdam, where millions cycle along the canals and frequent coffee shops, is reason enough to visit this part of the world. The country’s romantic side, fuelled by pastel houses, historical architecture, bright nature and friendly locals, has also inspired many to visit.
16. Saudi Arabia
Lonely Planet called Saudi Arabia one of the most difficult places on Earth to visit, so it may come as a surprise to see it on this list. However, it’s exactly this reason why so many people wish to holiday in the country. Saudi Arabia’s untarnished landscapes and cultures make it a rarity in a world where so many countries have become tourist meccas. The perfect holiday destination for adventurous travellers, Saudi Arabia is home to fascinating souks, centuries-old mosques and forts, world-class diving and undulating desert landscapes.
An archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, it’s almost impossible to see all of the Philippines within a lifetime. That hasn’t stopped people from trying, as HotelsCombined has seen a significant rise in bookings. Previous travellers would stick to the main tourist hubs such as Manila or Cebu. However, an increase in intrepid visitors and tour groups has broadened the Philippines scope. Now travellers are paying attention to the heavenly islands around Palawan, the rural landscapes of Tagaytay and the various reefs around Bohol and Coron.
Although attentions have turned to the United Kingdom and the United States of America more of late, China has begun to turn heads with its mix of dazzling metropolises and rural and island escapes. A 33 per cent rise in HotelsCombined bookings this year may be the result of a range of new attractions that opened recently. These include a swing over the edge of a 300-metre-high cliff, a glass-bottomed walkway on Tianmen Mountain and Disney’s first ever mainland China resort in Shanghai.
Ireland might have fallen a little on this list, but it’s still more popular with travellers than other European powerhouses like France or Italy. Modern-day travellers have become infatuated with the country’s fairy-tale nature and jovial culture. This country of castles, dramatic coastline and undulating landscapes continues to treat travellers with its history. Visitors both young and old also appreciate the bigger cities such as Dublin, where live music and Guinness flow freely.
Bordering Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Syria, Iraq and Iran, Turkey delivers an incredible mix of cultures that is displayed in its food and architecture to its people and music. Few other countries offer such diversity, where visitors can bathe in the thermal spas of Pamukkale, shop for unique trinkets in the Grand Bazaar, unearth the most spectacular mosques or soar in a sky of hot-air balloons at Cappadocia.
An Unexpected Mix of Destinations
Some of the places on this list may not be surprising, but others have come from nowhere to claim the hearts of travellers around the world. Whether it’s a new attraction or finally experiencing that well-earned appreciation, these destinations all have something to offer those who wish to discover fascinating cultures and unforgettable sights.
With travel to these countries now easier than ever, now is the best time for travellers to venture out and try something new in countries that have only just appeared on the “must-see” travel radar. Or, perhaps it’s time to rekindle that old love and revisit one of your favourite countries with the possibility of discovering something new about it.