Consider these destinations for your next vacation.
Historically, travelers have concentrated on countries in the northern hemisphere. But today, arrivals and departures are happening all over the world — and with much greater frequency. In fact, tourist spend is growing at a faster rate in the southern hemisphere than it is in the north, and tourism everywhere is increasing. The number of international arrivals hit 1.2 billion last year, and that number is expected to climb to 1.8 billion by 2030.
In the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report, 136 countries are ranked on 14 pillars, giving an all-around picture of the best destinations for tourists, globally.
One of the key findings in the report is that the travel and tourism sector is on the rise, and that competitiveness amongst destinations is as well. As part of the overall picture, the report’s editors looked at the countries that made the biggest leaps since the last report two years ago.
For travelers always seeking out new places to visit before they become too popular or touristy, these are the 15 countries to watch.
Japan is up five spots from the last report, landing in 4th place overall. The biggest push for Japan comes from a drop in the costs of air ticket taxes and fuel, meaning the country became more affordable for tourists to visit (even though hotel prices have risen). Japan already has a well-developed tourist industry, and it’s a popular place to visit. But to really excel, Japan will need to improve their environmental sustainability and ease the prohibitive visa restrictions.
Azerbaijan is still ranked somewhere around the middle (in 71st place overall), but the country has jumped 13 spots since the last report. Azerbaijan’s tourism sector has grown significantly in the last decade, which is likely due to an easing of visa restrictions. To continue to grow, this country in the South Caucasus region will need to work on better promoting their cultural and natural resources. But interested travelers will find there’s already quite a bit happening here. Check out the mud volcanoes — which are exactly what they sound like — and the Walled City of Baku, where humans have lived since the Paleolithic period. You can even bathe in crude petrol at the Naftalan Spa and Health Center.
Though still low on the global rankings, in 107th place, Tajikistan has risen 12 spots since the last report. The country’s best score is for its human resources and labor market, where they place 36th, and their next highest score is in safety and security, where they place 49th. Adventurous travelers should head to Pamir National Park: a 6.5 million acre reserve filled with Siberian ibex, snow leopards, and wild markhor goats.
Vietnam has risen eight spots since the last report, landing in 67th place, though it’s already a popular tourist destination. The South East Asian country boasts ample natural and cultural resources, and is well-connected to the Internet and to cell signals. Business travel has also increased, and the country’s affordability makes it a great place for budget-conscious travelers. The cuisine (think decadent pho and refreshing sinh to smoothies) is reason enough to visit Vietnam.
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Israel is up 11 spots from the last report, and is in 61st place overall. This Middle Eastern country’s recent appeal has plenty to do with how quickly they’ve become a popular place to do business. Israel is well known for its innovation, and their ranking in business environment has shot up 19 places since the last report. There are countless reasons for leisure travelers to visit, too: Israel has a range of cultural and natural resources (the Negev Desert in southern Israel being a favorite) and is experiencing something of a culinary renaissance.
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In 118th place, Algeria’s rank may still be fairly low, but the North African country has risen five places since the last report. For price competitiveness, Algeria places 4th, making it one of the most affordable countries to visit in the world. They also rank in the top half for cultural and natural resources.
As the country famous for ranking itself by GNH (Gross National Happiness, of course) rather than GDP, Bhutan certainly holds an appeal for tourists. The joyful Buddhist Kingdom has risen nine places in this year’s report, now holding the 78th rank. Bhutan ranks well in safety and security, landing 25th place. As a bonus, they are one of the most affordable countries in the world, too, ranking in 6th place.
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Gabon has risen five spots since the last report, and it ranks well for price competitiveness and environmental sustainability. Visitors will most likely head straight for the lush Loango National Park, which is home to gorilla sanctuaries, hippos, and elephants.
7. South Korea
South Korea is in 19th place this year—10 spots higher than the last report — and is one of the five most improved countries. Two stand-out improvements are in international openness, where they rose a whopping 39 spots to 14th place (due mostly to trade agreements), and in price competitiveness, thanks to a drop in fuel and hotel costs.
Egypt climbed nine spots since the last report. There are some significant draws for Egypt as a travel destination: the Great Pyramids of Giza being perhaps the most obvious, though Nile River cruises are also popular with visitors. Egypt is also the second most affordable destination globally.
Peru is best known for the stunning sanctuary of Machu Picchu, which draws travelers from around the world, but it isn’t one of the top-ranked destinations globally. Still, the South American country has risen seven places, now holding the 51st spot. Peru’s best score is in natural resources, where it’s ranked fourth globally, and they also do well in terms of international openness, where they rank 12th.
India is now ranked 40th, 12 spots higher than that last list, although it’s long been a popular place for international tourists. Destinations in the South Asian country that are gaining in popularity include Hampi and the Andaman Islands: a cluster of remote islands with unspoiled beaches and extraordinary coral reefs.
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Mexico has risen eight places to land in 22nd place overall, creeping closer in rank to its North American neighbors. Mexico’s stunning resources, both cultural and natural (10th and 2nd, respectively) have helped boost the country’s profile. Skip Cancun and Tulum, which have long been known to tourists, and head instead to the quiet colonial town of San Miguel de Allende or hammock-strewn Isla Holbox.
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That Chad has risen 6 spots since the last report to land in 135th place is a little misleading: the last report looked at 141 countries (not 136), and Chad was in last place. This year, the Central African country ranks second: last only to Yemen. If Chad sounds like a strange choice for a vacation, you may want to reconsider. Mountain Travel Sobek recently announced an 18-day tour of the country’s spike markets, Saharan desert, and Lakes of Ounianga.
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Albania rose eight places to land in the 98th spot this year, meaning it’s one of the most exciting up-and-coming destinations for tourists. Visit the Albanian Riviera for teal waters and nearly year-round sun, or wander through Gjirokastra, ‘The City of Stone,’ for a dose of culture and history.