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Where to Go in 2013

January 24, 2013 Travel Agent


The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the harbor in Marseille
The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooks the harbor in Marseille, France’s oldest city. Marseille-Provence is the 2013 European Capital of Culture.

Travel Agent has kicked off 2013 with a serious case of wanderlust. As we’ve compiled our list of resolutions for the new year, we’ve also scoured the earth to determine where to travel next. After intense debate, interviews with industry veterans, not to mention on-the-ground research, staff editors Jena Tesse Fox, Adam Leposa, Joseph Pike and correspondent Mary Winston Nicklin present Travel Agent ’s hot destinations for 2013


Istanbul, Turkey

Don’t be surprised if more and more travel talk turns to Turkey. The country—famously at the crossroads of Europe and Asia—is having a moment. The World Travel Awards selected the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism as Europe’s Leading Tourist Board in 2012, and the ministry’s hard work appears to be paying off with an increase in preliminary bookings for 2013.  

A red-hot hotel scene makes Istanbul a stand-out destination. Home to the only Edition hotel in the world, this beguiling metropolis has witnessed a parade of recent openings, including the Marti and Pera Palace, the historic landmark that once pampered Orient-Express passengers and is now managed by Jumeirah

Europe’s High-Speed Trains

Over the past several years, high-speed trains have become a preferred mode of travel across Europe, with the ultimate result that many airlines no longer offer short-haul flights, even internationally. In the time it would take to drive out to an airport, check in, check luggage, wait for boarding, fly, disembark, collect luggage and drive into the next city, travelers can simply go directly to a city-center train station just a few minutes before the train departs, ride for a few hours, disembark and walk right out into another city center. In the long run, it’s a time-saver (and much more environmentally friendly than flying). Another benefit is that travelers can stay in one city and take day trips to others by high-speed rail. For example, Florence is just over two hours away from Milan on the Frecciarossa train, and quick trips between London and Paris are popular on Eurostar trains.

Rail Europe offers a good range of ticket options and can help plan trips throughout the continent (and the UK) as well as one-day excursions. —Jena Tesse Fox


“This beautiful city is one of the fastest growing destinations in the world,” said Sinan Yilmaz, general manager of the Shangri-La Bosphorus, opening this spring. As the first Asian hospitality brand to arrive in Istanbul, Shangri-La is pulling out all the stops with its hotel, located on a prime piece of Bosphorus real estate between the Dolmabahce Palace and Naval Museum. More than 60 percent of the guest rooms will have waterfront views. Raffles will follow suit in the summer with a luxury hotel in the Zorlu Centre, one of the city’s largest new developments. 

For 2013, Turkish Airlines has inexpensive tickets for nonstop flights between the East Coast and Istanbul (compared to other European hubs). Istanbul is an easy sell for travelers looking to explore “new” destinations in Europe, after having checked Paris, London, and Rome off the list.  —Mary Winston Nicklin

Marseille-Provence, France

Another place to be in 2013 is the south of France, not just because of the sun and sea on the fabled Riviera, but also because Marseille-Provence has been elected European Capital of Culture, and is putting on a show that’s unrivaled in the history of the designation. The social calendar is brimming with exciting events (imagine thousands of horses crossing the Provencal plains and marching into the port during “TransHumance”!). As the oldest city in France, Marseille has long embraced the Mediterranean, and the city’s melting-pot diversity, along with 300 days of sunshine per year, is one of its chief assets. Recently this maritime hub has witnessed massive urban regeneration projects by the world’s starchitects (like Norman Foster), and is now buzzing with an undeniable energy.

Shangri-La Bosphorus
More than 60 percent of the rooms at the new Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul, will have waterfront views.


Linda Miller of Avanti Destinations notes the healthy interest in Europe for 2013. “Our advance bookings are up 25 percent over a year ago. Paris continues to be the number one booked city, but Marseille is going to pop up more on the radar. There is a lot happening in the city, like the opening of MuCem on the Old Port, the only French National Museum to be built outside of Paris. The European Capital of Culture title is the perfect opportunity to introduce more long-haul travelers to Marseille; there will be many reasons for people to spend a few days and not just pick up their rental car and go to other parts of Provence.”

Easily accessible from Paris in three hours by high-speed train, Marseille is also connected to the world via the Marseille-Provence airport. In fact, XL Airways will launch twice-weekly service between Marseille and New York JFK on May 31.  —M.W.N.

Croatia, Dubrovnik and the Balkan Peninsula

The Balkan Peninsula is emerging as one of the great hidden gems of Europe, with increased brand-hotel development in cities like Zagreb. Dubrovnik is a city of living history, thanks to a law that forbids building new hotels until the older properties damaged in the wars of independence are repaired. As such, all new hotels in the city are built in historic properties. 

Fishing boats in Haiti
Fishing boats in Haiti, a nation that is re-emerging as a tourism destination.

For 2013, tour operators are stepping up their packages to the Balkans. G Adventures will be launching tours to Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia. Cruise companies are also increasing their stopovers along the Adriatic, and new luxury villas have opened in historic Dubrovnik buildings. 

There are no direct flights to Dubrovnik from the United States, but the city gets plenty of air traffic from Paris, London and Rome, so transfers are easy. 

Your well-traveled clients who have already toured France, Italy and Spain and their historic cities and beaches will appreciate the culture, architecture and coastline of Dubrovnik and other cities along the Adriatic coast.  —Jena Tesse Fox

Gstaad, Switzerland 

Famous for its ultra-swank chalets and picture-perfect mountains (not to mention the celebrities who call it home), Gstaad has been a perennial favorite among luxury travelers and dedicated skiers for decades. New for 2013 is Gstaad’s first new luxury hotel in more than a century: Alpina Gstaad opened its doors in December. At the same time, the iconic Gstaad Palace is celebrating its centennial this year. 

While Gstaad does not have a major airport of its own, private planes can land at Airport Gstaad-Saanen. Otherwise, it’s best to rent a car and drive in from Bern Airport. Guests who love the luxe life or enjoy top-notch skiing are prime candidates for a vacation in Gstaad.  —J.T.F.



With new game reserves in the wild and improved urban infrastructure, Tanzania is attracting a new generation of travelers who want to see something new, unspoilt and truly breathtaking. In addition, new cultural programs are helping visitors learn more about Maasai history and heritage. 

New for 2012, the Four Seasons has opened its first Tanzania property with the Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti. Singita, which already operates several game lodges throughout the Serengeti, opened the Singita Mara River Tented Camp in the northernmost tip of the park. 

From the United States, clients fly into Johannesburg on South African Airways and transfer to a flight to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. Once in Dar, they’ll transfer to Pioneer Air or other local jets.

Singita Mara River Tented Camp
View of the Serengeti from Singita Mara River Tented Camp in Tanzania.


Ideal for culture-seekers, thrill-seekers and wildlife enthusiasts, Tanzania is brimming with opportunities for visitors to meet with locals and go camping close to elephants and leopards in the vast Serengeti.  —J.T.F.

Victoria Falls

While it is hardly a new destination, Victoria Falls has become increasingly easy to reach thanks to more tour operators offering visits to “The Smoke That Thunders.” A range of accommodations means that all kinds of visitors can tour the Falls for a day, or stay at a nearby lodge for a week. 

Local and international tour operators are offering a good selection of tours to the Falls in 2013. Globus, Tauck and African Travel all include tours to Victoria Falls. To get there, clients will fly South African Airways to Johannesburg and transfer to a flight to either Victoria Falls or Livingstone, Zambia.

Central Plaza
Central Plaza and cathedral in Granada, one of Nicaragua’s historic, culture-rich cities.


Couples, families and thrill-seekers who want to go hiking, rafting or even swimming in the notorious “Devil’s Pool” will all have a great time visiting Victoria Falls.  —J.T.F.

 The Caribbean


Whereas Travel Agent didn’t expect a 50-year-plus ban on travel to Cuba to be erased the second President Barack Obama took office for the first time, there seems to be an annual dose of hope that legal travel from the United States to the forbidden land could be a reality in the foreseeable future. In fact, agents can actually make a commission on travel to Cuba today and that’s thanks in large part to the continued success—and legitimacy—of the People-to-People initiative that was reinstated early on in Obama’s first term. 

Chugach Powder Guides
Travelers on Chugach Powder Guides’ new Seward Program will have the opportunity to blaze new territory.

The People-to-People initiative requires Americans to take part in various cultural experiences in Cuba, putting them in direct contact with the people of Cuba with hopes of learning about the way of life in the country. We recently spoke to representatives of both Insight Cuba, a provider of U.S. licensed people-to-people travel to Cuba, and General Tours World Traveler about a renewed partnership, which was made official in December, that allow for legal travel from the United States to Cuba to continue.

And with its new American visitors, such Cuba hotels as the 352-room Iberostar Mojito are beginning to undergo makeovers to prepare for making that breathtaking first impression. Iberostar Hotels & Resorts recently announced it has completed extensive remodeling and refurbishment work on the Iberostar Mojito, the chain’s ninth hotel in Cuba.

The country offers pretty much everything for younger clients, older clients, couples, families and singles. Havana obviously provides the nightlife, restaurants, culture and history whereas an array of beach destinations like Varadero provide the white sand beaches for the fun-in-the-sun clients.  —Joe Pike


Before the earthquake of 2010, Haiti was poised to make a major investment in tourism and possibly compete with other, more developed Caribbean islands. But in the aftermath of the natural disaster that put leisure tourism on the backburner, the country was still receiving a heavy amount of volunteer tourists. 

For 2013, however, it appears as though enough repairs have been done to the country to make leisure tourism a primary focus again. The first sign that Haiti’s sights were set again on tourism came in 2011 when United Continental Holdings announced that Continental Airlines would begin nonstop flights between, Newark (NJ) Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Port-Au-Prince.

Then in early 2012, Aimbridge Hospitality announced that it has been chosen to manage the new Best Western Premier Petion-Ville Hotel in Haiti.

In December, Digicel and Marriott International announced they had broken ground on the $45 million, 175-room Marriott Hotels & Resorts brand hotel in the Turgeau area of Port-au-Prince, with an opening expected in early 2015, making it the first four-star branded hotel in Haiti. All-inclusive giant, Occidental Hotels & Resorts, announced in early January that it had opened the five-star Royal Oasis by Occidental in the heart of Pétion-ville.

Now, Haiti is still a very delicate situation. It is emerging slowly and there are still major concerns regarding cholera as well as the ongoing process of repairing the damage by the hurricane. Book this for seasoned Caribbean travelers, couples or singles; we suggest waiting a few more years before recommending Haiti for children.  —J.P.


Travel Agent spoke to a Grenada tourism board representative recently who told us, “Everybody knows that Butch Stewart [chairman of Sandals Resorts International] doesn’t expand to an island if he doesn’t already know he will get the flights.”

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Mayanmar (Burma), can expect more American visitors in 2013.

Well, if that’s true, Grenada should be able to make a great pitch for airlift since the destination recently became home to a new Sandals resort. And if Grenada gets airlift, especially from the Northeast, then it will fill the only void keeping it from become a Caribbean giant in 2013 and beyond. In November, Sandals announced it would be taking over LaSource, a popular luxury resort that had closed due to financial woes.

Grenada is a great destination for seasoned Caribbean travelers, especially couples. As we touched upon, getting there is a little difficult, so perhaps pitch this to younger clients who don’t mind jumping through a few hoops to get to this secluded paradise.  —J.P.

Latin America

Lima, Peru

Angling for a top spot among Latin American destinations, Peru has been hot for years now. “Availability is becoming a significant concern because of the demand for Machu Picchu, and exceptional pricing now makes Peru a rival to Costa Rica in terms of sheer volume to Latin America. Luckily, we work with some great local partners and find ways to get space for visits to the Inca heritage sites,” notes Jerry Tischleder, South America product manager at Avanti Destinations. “Plus, Peru’s tourist board has really been putting a lot of effort into the North American market which only helps travel agents. With some new hotels coming on the market in 2013, I expect the boom to continue.” 

With the rise of food tourism, Peru is attracting an entirely different crowd. From Los Angeles to London, trendy Peruvian restaurants are piquing tastebuds with ceviche, anticuchos, and pisco sours. Many of Peru’s celebrity chefs—who make global tours as ambassadors of Peruvian cuisine—have restaurants in Lima, where they can source incredible local products like Andean cactus and yucca straight from the Amazon. Now Lima is emerging as a top destination for the foodie set. LAN and United fly nonstop from New York’s JFK, meaning Lima’s palate-thrilling cuisine is within eight hours’ reach. —M.W.N.


Ecuador has been emerging for quite some time but a new airport expected to open this year could put the destination on the top. The new airport isn’t even necessarily the reason, but rather what they plan on doing with the old one. 

The old airport in Quito, located smack in the middle of the bustling city, will be converted into a facility that will house everything from a convention center to shopping outlets to a new luxury hotel, making it the perfect spot for both leisure and business travelers.

Quito’s new International Airport, which is expected to receive an influx of eight million travelers, will feature a 2.5-mile-long landing strip capable of handling bigger capacity, long-haul jets. Tame, one of Ecuador’s three domestic airlines, will offer direct flights to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and New York starting in 2013.

Set to begin service in June 2013, the new luxury train known as Tren Crucero will travel from the Andes south to the Pacific Coast over the course of a four-day /three-night journey. The four-coach train can accommodate 54 passengers comfortably in sofa chairs that face dining tables. 

Ecuador is ideal for adventure travelers and land-sports enthusiasts. However, make sure your clients, especially the older ones, are fit enough to endure Ecuador’s altitude since it can cause some shortness of breath and dehydration.  —J.P.


The Nicaragua Tourism Board reports that tourism is one of the country’s fastest-growing economic sectors. Tourist arrivals have increased in the past few years to become Nicaragua’s largest industry. From January through September 2012, tourism to Nicaragua increased 11 percent, leading to an 11.45 percent increase in foreign investment. 

And with the destination expecting its first ever luxury resort this year, expect affluent clients to begin inquiring about this Latin American diamond in the rough. Travel Agent got the skinny on Mukul (the Mayan word for “secret”), a luxury boutique hotel and spa in Guacalito de la Isla that is expected to open soon. It’s a $250-million, 1,670-acre low-density private beach community on Nicaragua’s Emerald Coast and will have about 40 rooms, each with an ocean view, pool and private staff.

Book Nicaragua for the seasoned travelers, especially anyone who has been to and enjoyed Guatemala or Honduras—or Central and South America in general.  —J.P.

United States


Hawaii, of course, emerged a very long time ago, but there are still off-the-beaten-path spots in the islands that are starting to catch a healthy amount of buzz. 

Expect the tiny (141 square miles), sparsely populated island of Lanai, once a pineapple plantation, to undergo a tourism makeover since it was purchased by Oracle founder Larry Ellison. According to several media outlets, the purchase will include two resort hotels and a pair of golf courses with clubhouses. We expect some other major changes to come to Lanai, whether  this year or beyond. Regardless, agents should put this destination on their radars immediately.

The Keauhou area on the Big Island should be experiencing some major changes as well. The old Keauhou Beach Hotel, owned by Kamehameha Schools, is going to be torn down and will be replaced by a brand new cultural/learning/meeting center. Also, the newly renamed Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa, completed a $20 million resort renewal in September. The resort (formerly Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa), is well on its way to re-establishing itself as the crown jewel of the community. 

On Oahu, Kailua town is the place to be. President Barack Obama stays in a beach house there when he visits. Think Malibu and Southampton meets Hawaii. Besides presidents, Hawaii has something for every client and is especially well suited for water sports enthusiasts.  —J.P.

Big Sky, Montana 

With a new weekly nonstop service from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Montana’s Big Sky Resort is more accessible from the East Coast than ever. The United Airlines service, which started this past summer, continues throughout the current ski season. 

When Travel Agent profiled this destination back in 2011, we noted that the relatively few number of skiers spread over the most contiguous skiable terrain in the United States makes the resort ideal for those just learning to ski or families looking to escape the crowds. Travelers can get there on the new nonstop service, which flies into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN). This airport also has nonstops from Minneapolis, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Shuttle services are available with a required reservation.  —Adam Leposa

Seward, Alaska

Seward, Alaska, offers a unique option for more experienced skiers—the chance to heli-ski previously unexplored terrain. Chugach Powder Guides/EpicQuest is rolling out an exploratory heli-ski program that offers guests the chance to ski 2,000 to 3,000 vertical foot first descents. “It’s pretty much name what you ski,” offers Chris Owens, Chugach’s brand manager. 

Sell this destination to more experienced skiers looking for a new challenge. Travelers can get there by flying into Anchorage International Airport (ANC). From the airport, a scheduled shuttle from Chugach Powder Guides will escort guests on the 125-mile drive along the coast to Seward.  —A.L.

Asia-Pacific Region 

New Zealand

Don’t underestimate the Hollywood effect. Director Peter Jackson has done it again with his blockbuster film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Raking in a cool $223 million at the box office worldwide on its opening weekend in December, the film is also a huge boon to New Zealand’s tourism sector, inspiring travelers with visions of snow-capped peaks, green pastures, and a dramatic coastline carved with fjords. After the commercial success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the far-flung Pacific islands, where the films were shot, saw a spike in interest. Tourism New Zealand capitalized on this buzz with the award-winning marketing campaign, “100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand.”

Erina Pindar at Smart Flyer in New York predicts Australia and New Zealand as a top destination for 2013. “Not many Americans are familiar with the region, yet it offers some of the most unique and luxurious lodges in the world. Though still relatively unknown in this part of the world, properties like Freycinet [Tasmania], Wolgan Valley [Australia’s Blue Mountains], and Matakauri [Queenstown] will be on the radar of those ‘in the know’ in coming years.” 

Long-haul flights to Auckland on the North Island are 13 hours from Los Angeles and San Francisco on Air New Zealand. It’s possible to make a stop-over in the South Pacific for a few days of R&R on the island beaches (think Tahiti). To access Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, flights connect in Auckland or Sydney.

New Zealand has something for everyone, but nature lovers will be delighted by the country’s gorgeous landscapes, and adrenaline junkies can experience the thrill of bungee jumping in the sport’s birthplace of Queenstown. Another target customer base is retired baby boomers who have the time and resources for a longer vacation on the other side of the globe.  —M.W.N.

Myanmar, Burma

Experiential travel continues to be a big trend, with operators seeing a bump in bookings to exotic locales. The lure of the final frontier has catapulted Myanmar to the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. Once isolated by a repressive military dictatorship, Myanmar is in the throes of tremendous change with recent government reforms and the election of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi to Parliament after years of house arrest.  

The JetBlue Factor

JetBlue Airways has developed such a loyal customer base in the U.S. that customers are beginning to book their vacations backward, with, JetBlue’s loyalists looking at their favorite airline’s routes and then picking their vacation spot based on that.

So any Caribbean island that adds JetBlue flights is seeing dividends immediately. For example, Turks & Caicos added JetBlue flights from New York and Boston in February of 2011 and subsequently had one of its most successful years ever in the destination’s history. Likewise, earlier in 2011, St. Lucia reported its best January arrival numbers since 2005 and several representatives of the destination singled out JetBlue flights as one of the main reasons for the whopping increase.

Also, JetBlue Airways’ daily direct service from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) in St. Maarten officially began in 2011. Also, after nearly two years of speculation, the up-and-coming Dominican Republic destination of Samana has finally nailed down its first direct flights from the U.S.

But the Caribbean is not the only region benefiting from JetBlue and its loyal following. On November 2 of last year, the airline added Cartagena to its network. The coastal city is the airline’s second destination in Colombia and its third route to the country. Last summer, JetBlue added a daily Fort Lauderdale-to-Bogota service to complement its existing daily Orlando to Bogota route.

In Costa Rica, JetBlue added four weekly nonstop flights between New York (JFK) and Liberia in 2011, complementing its existing Orlando-San Jose service. Travel Agent also got word that other Latin American powerhouse such as Ecuador and Panama are looking to secure JetBlue flights in the near future. —Joe Pike


“We’ve seen an 80 percent increase in bookings in 2012, compared to the year prior,” quips Jean Fawcett at luxury operator Abercrombie & Kent. A&K established an office in Myanmar 15 years ago, and A&K USA has been offering small group escorted programs there since 2010. The first year it’s being offered, the tour “Myanmar’s Burmese Heritage” provides a meaningful way of discovering an unspoiled destination. In fact, A&K’s advisory board of top travel agents—including Mollie Fitzgerald at Frontiers International Travel, Joan Jonat at Protravel International and Lara Leibman at Frosch—recently returned from Myanmar, praising the tour as an unforgettable experience. 

Rebecca Mazzaro, Asia Destination Manager at Asia Transpacific Journeys and an award-winning Myanmar/Burma specialist, cites the American demand for travel to Myanmar increasing nearly 10 fold but notes that Thailand had 19 million foreign visits in 2011 compared to 816,000 for Burma.

“Asia Transpacific Journeys has a long history of offering travel to this magical land,” Mazzaro adds, “and we’ve been long-time believers in creating opportunities for both travelers and local people to interact. We know the country, have long term relationships with the best operators, guides, and hotels, and know and love the local people.”

Responsible tours offered by companies such as A&K, Asia Transpacific and Wilderness Travel appeal to adventure seekers and cultural explorers eager to experience an authentic destination in Southeast Asia relatively untouched by the outside world.  —M.W.N.

Jena Tesse Fox is Travel Agent’s Europe, Australia, South Pacific and Africa editor. She has traveled around the world to hunt down stories, from staying in five-star London suites to chasing leopards through a private game reserve in South Africa to climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In 2012 she won the Tanzania Tourist Board’s Travel Media Award.


Adam Leposa is the Associate Web Managing Editor of He is also a frequent contributor to Travel Agent magazine, specializing in Alaska and ski travel, as well as agency and consortia news. Adam is a graduate of New York University, where he received a degree in English and American Literature.


JoE Pike covers the Caribbean, Bahamas & Bermuda; Central & South America; and Hawaii for Travel Agent. In 2012 he won his third straight Inner Circle King Award for Best Feature Article in a Trade Publication from the Caribbean Tourism Organization. In 2009, he won the Marcia Vickery-Wallace Memorial Award from the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Mary Winston Nicklin is a Paris-based contributor to Travel Agent magazine and its sister publication  Luxury Travel Advisor.  She covers the Continent, particular its ever-changing hotel scene, and also travels beyond to other parts of the world. Her feature on Abu Dhabi was the cover story of TA’s June 4, 2012, issue.


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