2018 International Travel Trends
After much deliberation, this year's list includes Abu Dhabi for planning major new developments, PyeongChang, South Korea for hosting the Winter Olympics, and Tbilisi, Georgia for being the next emerging must-visit destination.
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If you’re hard-pressed to identify where the Azores are located or really anything about them, that’s about to change. Expect interest in the Azores, an autonomous Portuguese island chain in the middle of the Atlantic, to spike in 2018. This is thanks in no small part to Delta launching a seasonal route starting May 24, 2018. Flights will operate five times a week between JFK and the charming capital of Ponta Delgada (only a six-hour flight), where visitors can explore an unspoiled, bio-diverse terrain. Here, you can find everything from hot springs and volcanoes to mountains and beaches. In fact, you can’t beat the Azores for diving. It’s also one of the best spots for whale and dolphin watching. And while it's everything an outdoor lover could ever want, there’s a fantastic wine-growing region on Pico Island.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Often overshadowed by Dubai, Abu Dhabi is positioning itself as the cultural and entertainment capital of the UAE. About an hour’s drive from Dubai, Abu Dhabi recently made headlines for finally opening the Louvre Abu Dhabi, an undertaking that’s been in the works since 2007 — but that’s not all. The new museum opened on Saadiyat Island, where a multi-billion dollar mixed-use development project will add the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, as well as the Zayed National Museum, 29 hotels and more by 2020. The five-star Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas and St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort are now open, and other major developments in the works for 2018 include the billion-dollar Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, a massive indoor theme park promising 29 rides, plus shows and attractions. Looking ahead, 2019 will introduce the equally expensive Al Maryah Central mega-mall and the five-star Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island Resort.
Nobody can accuse Dubrovnik of being under the radar, and neither the city nor the country lack for tourists. But there’s another reason it's attracting visitors in 2018 — it's the filming location for "Star Wars" and "Game of Thrones." The latest "Star Wars" film, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," uses Dubrovnik as the backdrop for Canto Bight, an intergalactic casino and sin city for the universe’s one-percent. Join a tour such as Star Wars Dubrovnik in order to scope out the filming locations. Meanwhile, "Game of Thrones" fans will recognize the ancient city as the fictional King’s Landing and can take a tour of channel favorite scenes.
Travel to the Caribbean has declined, in part by those believing the entire region was heavily damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria. But the reality is the majority of the Caribbean wasn’t affected, and the islands that were hit are slowly rebounding and in need of tourism dollars. Of those affected, Puerto Rico, particularly San Juan, is readying for visitors. La Concha Resort, Hotel El Convento, Condado Vanderbilt, Condado Palm Inn & Suites, DoubleTree by Hilton San Juan and San Juan Marriott Resort are among the hotels currently taking reservations. Elsewhere in the region, there is a spate of new hotel openings, starting with the mega Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas. Turks and Caicos welcomed The Shore Club and Sailrock Resort, St. Kitts added a Park Hyatt, and Belize introduced Itz’ana Resort. Get more information about visiting the Caribbean this winter here.
The remote Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan was largely inaccessible until the 1960s, when the only way to reach it was on foot. Travel infrastructure has vastly improved since then, but Bhutan is still cautious about attracting a flood of visitors — meaning you won’t find continuous tourist and hotel openings here. That makes any new development especially noteworthy, particularly the addition of five new Six Senses that will open around the country in 2018. The high-end hotel brand, from Thimphu to Paro, emphasizes blending into each locale and incorporating handmade and locally-sourced decor and materials. Getting to Bhutan will also become a bit easier, as a second international airport is underway.
New direct flights (Georgian Airlines and Wizz Air) from London to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi have increased accessibility to this former Soviet Republic. The pretty, ancient city meets all the requisites for a short city break — interesting architecture, plentiful cafes and shopping, museums and no shortage of good wine and authentic dishes. Oh, and the tourist hordes haven’t yet descended. Get there before everyone else does to experience a Russian culture that’s been heavily influenced by Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Don’t leave before hunting for Soviet relics at Dry Bridge Market, eating khachapuri, a cheese-stuffed bread topped with a runny egg and butter and holding your nose to experience one of the popular sulfur baths dotted around the city.
Iceland’s revamped tourism campaign attracted countless jet setters filling up their Instagram feed with the country’s dramatic landscapes. Now that crowd is turning its attention to the Faroe Islands, an autonomous archipelago between Iceland and Norway (Although, technically part of Denmark). The Faroes’ newfound attention isn’t random but is the result of new airline and cruise ship routes. Here, visitors will find a wet and rugged, wind-carved rock peppered with volcanic mountains and green valleys, unpolluted waterfalls and lakes. Renting a car is the best way to explore, especially since there’s no traffic (except for sheep). As for activities, opt for horseback riding, hiking or sailing, but it’s not all outdoorsy. The tiny capital of Torshavn offers quality shopping and dining. Just outside of town, you’ll find KOKS, a New Nordic restaurant that landed the Faroe Islands’ first Michelin star in 2017.
The Mediterranean archipelago of Malta, just south of Sicily, often gets overlooked in favor of Italy. Not so in 2018, since the compact capital of Valletta has been distinguished as a 2018 European Capital of Culture. This UNESCO World Heritage site is filled with buildings dating back to the 16th century, many in the Baroque style. (Think "Gladiator" or "Game of Thrones"). Valletta isn’t stuck in the past, though. There are new restaurants and hotels, and famed architect Renzo Piano recently redesigned the city’s gate, albeit amidst some controversy over its modern bent. But the real reason to visit now is the ongoing calendar of more than 400 cultural events occurring throughout 2018, kicking off with an opening week from Jan. 14-21. Don't miss the Valletta International Baroque Festival in January, followed by Carnival in February. No matter when you visit, there is no shortage of music, theater, festivals, visual arts and more.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
2018 is shaping up to be a busy year for Buenos Aires, as it will host the Youth Olympic Games in October, the G20 Summit (the first in South America) and the first Art Basel Cities. The renowned weekly art fair recently launched the Art Basel Cities initiative as a way to develop the local arts scene and introduce it to the rest of the world. Not to be confused with its annual shows in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong, this version is a multi-year undertaking and will kick off with week-long public programming September 11-16. The specifics are still in the works, but the artistic director’s resume includes the High Line in New York City and the Venice Biennale.
PyeongChang, South Korea
PyeongChang often gets overlooked in favor of Seoul, but this time it nabs the spotlight as the host of the 2018 Winter Olympics from Feb. 9-25. In addition to watching the sporting events, stay at the new InterContinental Pyeongchang Resort Alpensia (part of the Alpensia ski resort) and take advantage of its ski lessons and full-service spa. For something different during the Games, check out the annual Trout Fishing Festival or the PyeongChang Winter Music Festival 2018. A new high-speed train from Incheon International Airport makes this region more accessible than ever.