hot travel destinations

What does it mean when a place is #1 on a list of destinations you should visit this year? Why is this a “hot destination” on the cover of a major magazine on your local newsstand? Does that really mean anything for you?

Most of the year the covers rotate between Italy, France, and some beaches. But the transition to a new year always brings new hot lists and places you must visit.

Here’s the most obvious prediction for 2014: you are not going to be able to avoid reading about Brazil. You are going to read so many travel articles about this World Cup host that you’ll start reluctantly dreaming about the place at night. Why do you think they’re hosting? The travel media is certainly not enamored with Brazil because they have great hotels, well-built stadiums, or attractive prices. It’s because this and the Olympics (coming to Brazil in 2016) are two of the world’s greatest media magnets.

Sure, Brazilian service is some of the worst in Latin America, the infrastructure sucks, street crime is high, and you’ll have a tough time getting beyond the official event sites if you don’t speak Portuguese. But they have to write about Brazil because it’s “trending.” And yeah, they have to tweet about it too, so it’ll keep trending on Twitter as well. The beast keeps feeding upon itself.

It will all be rosy for Brazil until the World Cup is over. Then all those positive fluff articles from the travel press will come to a halt. (If they can’t say something nice, they won’t say anything at all—witness Sochi, Russia). The non-travel press will turn on the country like a wife who’s just found out her husband has a 21-year-old hottie on the side.

“You weren’t ready for us. You lied!”

“No,” Brazil could well reply. “You just chose not to pay attention.”

Panama hot destination

It’ll be just like this, but bigger!

Funny to me is that Panama showed up on a few hot destinations lists this year, not because of the plenty of good reasons to go there, but because the canal widening project will be finished and now container ships will be able to go through. Really? We’re going to travel all the way there because of that?

You’ll also read a lot about Mongolia later this year. Why? Because a new Shangri-La Hotel is opening there, that’s why. As one luxe travel editor said at a conference I attended last year, “There are a lot of destinations we would like to write about more, but there’s just no good place to stay there.”

Editors Love Trends, Events, and New Hotels

Robert Reid did a great article in Skift.com breaking down the “where to go” and “hot destinations” lists from multiple travel media outlets’ year-end round-ups. It’s all pure gold, but here’s a sample:

The most popular pick for editors is a place linked to a specific event, anniversary or news-related topic, like the World Cup or the 100th anniversary of WWI (almost half of the total). Next are secondary destinations that appear overdue for a shout-out (over a quarter of the total, including destinations like Nicaragua’s Little Corn Island, or Puglia, Italy).

Last is almost destination-agnostic, lists of new hotel sites or tours to plan a trip around (25% of the picks, including all of AFAR‘s list).

Cost or value only occasionally factors in.

What happens when a new luxury hotel opens somewhere? The magazines all feel a need to cover it, that’s what. And hey, if you want to keep getting $100K a month from Hyatt, are you really going to ignore their new Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica? If Starwood Hotels is your biggest advertiser, are you really going to avoid writing about the St. Regis Istanbul when it opens? No, you are not.

I cover Latin America a lot, so I can promise, for example, you’ll read lots of hot destination stories driven by new high-profile hotel openings in Puerto Escondido, mainland Honduras, Bogota, Cafayate, Patagonia, Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos, and (as in the quote above) Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. Occasionally you might even read something from a writer who has been there.

If these hot destinations and places to go are all just a trend-grabbing exercise, should you just rely on what real people say on TripAdvisor? Sometimes that works. But then I get e-mails like this that were meant to go to a hotel owner:

fake reviews

To find your own best path, dig deeper. Be skeptical. Honestly understand and answer why you want to go where you want to go. Here’s a reliable shortcut: if some trusted expert you follow or well-traveled friend who knows what you like recommended the place, just go. You know their advice is legit.

It’s a terrible feeling to arrive somewhere and go, “Really, this is it?! This is not what I expected from the photos…”

If you saw too-great-to-believe photos somewhere and that’s your sole reason the place got on your radar, at least get a second opinion. You may have been duped. In half the over-processed travel photos I see on blogs and social media these days, everyone is getting duped.

As Flavor Flav would say, don’t believe the hype.