Ute Junker looks back on the hottest destinations of 2014 and explains why they are the sizzling places to be.
So, did you make it to Brazil this year? Or just add it to your wish list? If you did, welcome to the club. Australians jumped on the Brazilian bandwagon this year, with Flight Centre reporting a 95 per cent increase in bookings before the World Cup.
You didn't need a crystal ball to see that coming, of course; Brazil and Rio de Janeiro were the easy picks for last year's hot list. Short of throwing out the welcome mat for the world's top footballers, however, is there a tried and tested way to make it onto a hot list?
Analysing the destinations that got the nod last year, we identified several surefire strategies that help a destination get its groove on.
The flagship event
As Brazil showed, hosting an internationally-broadcast sporting event is the quickest way to get yourself noticed. Last year's list also included Glasgow, the venue for this year's Commonwealth Games, and Tokyo, chosen last year as the host city for the 2020 Olympics.
Both cities have seen an immediate return on investment. Flight Centre reports large increases in bookings to both cities, and Glasgow's own statistics show record hotel occupancy throughout this northern summer.
Don't have the multi-million dollar budget required for this sort of event? There are less expensive options. The European Capital of Culture program gives Europe's lower-profile cities their turn in the spotlight. To score the 2014 spot, the Latvian capital of Riga put together a calendar of events including the World Choir Games and an exhibition celebrating 500 years of the printed book. If it makes more people aware of the charms of this beautiful but underrated city, it will have been money well spent.
Invest in infrastructure
One of the basic rules of the industry is that if you want to draw tourists, you need to build hotels. And that's precisely what Myanmar has been doing - in abundance. Since the country opened itself to large-scale tourism after years of isolation, new hotels and river cruise boats have been springing up like mushrooms after rain. Even so, they are having difficulty keeping up with demand, as travellers get wise to Myanmar's manifold attractions, from the temples of Bagan to the country's unspoiled beaches.
An economic crisis is, by definition, bad for business: unless that business happens to be tourism. Take Iceland. Its spectacular scenery has long drawn travellers, but its sky-high prices kept even more tourists away. Since the GFC caused Iceland to declare bankruptcy and drastically devalued its currency – at one point, it lost 85 per cent of its value against the Euro – the country has become much more affordable for visitors.
An even more extreme case is Detroit, which not only filed for bankruptcy, but also its population plummeted from two million to around 700,000. However, as Berlin discovered many years ago, poverty has its upsides. Empty buildings and dirt-cheap rents draw in artists and creative types, creating a pop-up culture that helps draw visitors. Detroit is a long way from becoming Berlin, but it looks like it's on the right path.
Choose the right neighbour
Proximity to a popular destination can also be a bonus. For many years, few Australians heading to South America looked beyond Chile – the entry point for both LAN and Qantas – and its neighbours, Argentina and Peru. However, as people discover that South America is a great destination, they are journeying further afield. That is, in part, how Colombia made it onto last year's list. It helps, of course, that the country has reinvented itself since the disastrous era of the cocaine cartels. Its vibrant cities, including Medellin, Bogota and Cartagena, and its dramatic landscapes, from Caribbean beaches to snow-capped mountains and steaming volcanoes, have much to offer visitors.
Similarly, after years of being over-shadowed by its booming neighbours, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the nearby sultanate of Oman is drawing attention precisely by being different. Its authentic Arabic vibe is a pleasant contrast to the steroid-driven growth of its neighbours.
Becoming a popular cruise port brings more benefits than the cash brought by free-spending day trippers. Make a good impression, and you have the opportunity to drum up plenty of repeat business. That strategy has been successfully pursued by Vanuatu, with Australians becoming more aware of the diverse activities it offers, from diving and jungle trekking to climbing an active volcano.
Retrospective: The hot destinations of 2014