What's so hot about New Zealand? Buzzwords for what's hip in travel

What is it that unites Hot List destinations from Chile's Atacama Desert to New Zealand?

What makes a country or a city a "hot" destination? 

I've been looking at a recent report from the network of elite travel agents and travel providers, Virtuoso, which each year draws up a 'hot' list of the top 10 countries that have had a significant uptick in interest in the past year. 

New Zealand is the hottest of the hot, with a 196 per cent surge in bookings in 2013-14. It's followed by Chile, Indonesia, Hungary, Hong Kong, Croatia, Australia, Ecuador, Greece and Norway. 

What makes New Zealand so hot? Well, there's the country's clever 100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure advertising campaign, launched to tie in with the Hobbit movie franchise. It was named best destination marketing campaign at the 2012 World Travel Awards and the trickle down effect of the campaign will probably last a few years. 

But I don't think it's hairy-footed hobbits alone that are attracting visitors to New Zealand in droves. New Zealand is what I call a Zeitgeist Destination, a place that perfectly reflects a global mood among travellers. It's the ideal country for travellers looking for soft adventure and pristine landscapes with the right amount of quirkiness that gives a place the stamp of authenticity – all the current buzzwords for what's hot in travel. 

Often a destination becomes hot without the concerted efforts of any tourist authority. 

Some are hot simply because they are places whose time has come, places long overlooked, their wonderfulness discovered by a few and then by many. A few years ago, it seemed as if everyone was discovering Buenos Aires. Now, it's Istanbul. Budapest will be next, as travellers look beyond the classic European destinations to places slightly off the beaten track. 

Increased airline routes, exciting new hotels and restaurants that garner lots of press, and an advance guard of young people populating bohemian neighbourhoods all help give a city an attractive profile. If they're also good value for money, as Buenos Aires, Istanbul and Budapest and countries such as Chile and Mexico happen to be, that's all the more appealing. 

Pristine landscapes may be so hot right now, but the power of culture is formidable. Scandinavia is a hot destination for many reasons, including its beautiful scenery, but it only truly became hip with a surge in interest in "Scandi Crime" through the popularity of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo franchise and TV series such as The Killing. As dark as they were, The Killing and The Bridge were brilliant commercials for Denmark and Sweden, giving these destinations an intriguing edge. 

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And I never gave a thought to visiting Portland, Oregon, until I saw the TV comedy Portlandia. Now I can't wait to go there, if only to check out its feminist bookstore. 

In Australia, Hobart benefited from MONA; Melbourne became hot because of its lanes. Canberra's moment of hotness has been focussed by an extraordinary new hotel. Los Angeles, a popular destination for Hollywood and Disneyland, was hardly considered hip until recently, when people discovered the beauty of old Downtown, its food trucks and its blossoming contemporary art scene.

If you look at the list of the forthcoming European Capitals of Culture, you can predict previously Not Hot cities that will soon become fashionable. This year, it's Riga in Latvia and Umea in Sweden. Coming up: Mons in Belgium, Pizen in the Czech Republic and (for 2016) one of the most underrated cities in the world, San Sebastian in Spain. 

Major sporting events can catapult a destination into instant hotness. Brazil is currently enjoying the double-whammy of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. 

Political upheavals, terrorism, war and natural disasters have great impacts on tourism, of course, currently limiting accessibility to a swathe of wonderful Middle Eastern countries. (And making the visiting of some unconscionable, such as Egypt for its jailing of the Al Jazeera journalists.) 

But even this changes, as countries recover from conflict. Iran is now an emerging destination for those with a sense of adventure. The countries impacted by the Bosnian war are increasingly popular, especially Croatia with its beautiful Adriatic and Danube coastlines.  

If there's something that unites Hot List destinations, from Chile's Atacama Desert to the Cook Islands, it is that they represent the road less travelled. This is not always a physical thing, but a state of mind. In the middle of great civilisations, there are still plenty of undiscovered wonders.

What is truly 'hot' is what the traveller brings – an open mind.