Where's hot? This summer's most popular holiday spots

By Katie Hope
Business reporter, BBC News

Published
image source, Polly Rowe
image captionPolly Rowe says she likes to step outside of her comfort zone

For some of us, holidays are becoming more than just a chance to relax in the sun but the chance to experience something different - and this growth in out-of-the-way travel is playing a vital role in many countries' economic development.

"I like to to try and tick off the bucket list if I can," says Polly Rowe.

The 26-year-old is planning to go to Mexico this October to meet up with an old school friend who is house-sitting at a ranch.

"Might try my hand at some farming," she laughs.

Last year she went to Belize to volunteer for a marine conservation company, and scuba-dived every day for a month.

Her bigger holidays so far have included New Zealand and Japan. When she travels she spends most of her money on flights and experiences.

image source, Mr & Mrs Smith
image captionSocial media is a big influence on where people are choosing to go

"I try to mainly stay in hostels and then save my money for the bigger experiences and things I want to try out there," she says.

Braggability

Polly is part of a generation of travellers seeking not just relaxation and leisure when they take a break from work, but also an experience.

Holidays for this age group are now all about the "braggability factor," says Tim Fryer, UK country manager at STA Travel.

He says bookings to more adventurous destinations have risen significantly in the past few years.

While Thailand remains one of its most popular destinations, the firm has seen an increase in bookings to less mainstream places such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

image source, EPA
image captionThailand remains a popular long-haul destination - but faces competition from Sri Lanka and the Philippines

"It's driven by social media influence. They want to discover something unique and special and show everyone," he says.

The travel agency's customers are predominantly 20-somethings, many of whom are taking a gap year, after finishing school or university.

Even here, he said people are now seeking out more unusual options. The traditional year out may now be just six months, or even as long as 18 months.

"We've seen less off the shelf round the world trips and more picking and choosing of 'I want this and I want that'," he says.

New destinations

Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Iceland, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Costa Rica, Georgia and Sri Lanka are some of the countries which are seeing the strongest growth globally in travel and tourism, according to global industry body The World Travel and Tourism Council.

Their widening appeal is outpacing that of some of the more traditional holiday markets such as India, China and Indonesia.

image source, EPA
image captionThe Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to advise against all but essential travel to Tunisia

This kind of jump in tourism can be a massive boost for a country which has few other ways of generating money. But even in developed nations the sector is crucial.

Last year, visitor exports - how much international tourists spend - accounted for some 6.6% of total world exports, and just under a third of total services exports. Overall the sector was responsible for around 10% of global growth last year.

Where we go on holiday is of course determined by wider world events.

Traditional holiday destination Tunisia has fallen off the map since the 2015 attack in the resort of Sousse in which 30 British tourists and eight others were killed by a gunman with links to Islamic State. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to advise against all but essential travel there.

Top five destinations this summer

image source, Getty Images
  1. Spain
  2. Greece
  3. Turkey
  4. USA
  5. Cyprus

Source: Thomas Cook, based on UK tour operator and flight-only bookings until 2 May

Yet Turkey, hit by security fears last year, has seen its popularity bounce back for this summer, according to Thomas Cook. The country is the third most popular destination for its customers this summer after Spain and Greece.

Old favourites the US and Cyprus are fourth and fifth, says the travel agency which arranges travel for around 19 million customers a year.

Currency impact

The pound's fall, which is still down around 15% against the dollar since last year's EU referendum, has had a clear impact on holidaymakers' choices with trips to Mexico and South Africa boosted by the relative weakness of their currencies.

Nonetheless, Thomas Cook too has noticed a growing appetite for adventure, with families with children going to long-haul destinations that you might not expect.

Family package holiday bookings for this summer are up 24% year-on-year to Cuba, 39% to Cancun in Mexico and 17% to the Dominican Republic, it says.

image source, Sao do Barrocal
image captionThe Sao Lourenco do Barrocal hotel complex in Portugal used to be a traditional farming village

At the more expensive end of the market, luxury travel club Mr and Mrs Smith says Portugal and Sri Lanka are currently in vogue.

The biggest trend the firm's co-founder James Lohan has noticed is that people now want all their trips to be memorable, not just ones taken to mark special occasions such as honeymoons and birthdays. He says FOMO - or fear of missing out - means people now want to "collect the world".

"The rise of social media has opened people's eyes to the world's possibilities. People now want transformational travel - something to enrich their lives more," he says.

Their typical client is "a slightly cliched cash-rich, time-poor person with an average age of 40," he says.

Their customers are not after extreme adventures such as climbing Kilimanjaro, but want what he describes as "boutique adventure more in keeping with a holiday".

In some ways, he says, they're simply re-inventing typical holiday pursuits such as museum tours for a new generation, offering instead things such as photography tours and cookery lessons.

image source, Rachel Juarez-Carr, Ham Yard Hotel
image caption'Frazzled urbanites' want to get back to nature says Mr & Mrs Smith co-founder James Lohan

Customers might not even realise it, but they're seeking something beyond just a hotel and "smart hoteliers are responding to that," he says.

He says a old Portuguese farming village, which has now been renovated and turned into the Sao Lourenco do Barrocal hotel by Jose Antonio Uva, the eighth generation of the same family to have lived there, is a good example.

"People are excited about things like kitchen gardens and provenance and being part of the hotel's working, particularly us frazzled urbanites. We want to get back to nature and be involved with it all," he says.

'Fly and flop'

Reflecting their customers' demands, the firm which started out as a publisher, producing a guidebook on the top UK boutique hotels, now organises tailor-made travel itineraries for its travel club members.

Isn't it all just a bit stressful for a holiday. Shouldn't people just be relaxing on a beach?

He laughs, saying there's still plenty of bookings to "fly and flop" destinations.

Although for Polly it's not the type of holiday she'll be seeking out.

"I think it's really important to experience different cultures and step outside of your comfort zone," she says.

"It's also a great opportunity to come back home with a different perspective."

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