Thanks to lower gas prices and a stronger dollar, Americans are expected to take a record number of international trips in the next couple of years, and more exotic locales such as Cuba and Myanmar are on their radar.
Emerging from a recession that kept many grounded for the past few years, Americans are venturing abroad again. Euromonitor International, a market research company, estimates Americans will make about 64 million trips to foreign countries in 2015.
Their number-one destination with be Mexico, thanks to that country’s proximity to the United States.
“There are a lot of cultural ties between the two countries,” said Michelle Grant, travel research manager at Euromonitor International. “But then, the country is also known for its leisure activities, lots of all-inclusive resorts in Cancun, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, so a lot of Americans are choosing to vacation there as well as visit their friends and family or to conduct business.”
TOP FOREIGN DESTINATIONS FOR US TRAVELERS IN 2015
Many of those visitors will drive to Mexico, as well as to Canada, the second most popular foreign destination for Americans. But they are also flying. About 6 million Americans caught a flight to Mexico in 2013, while 3.8 million flew to Canada. The next most visited destination is the United Kingdom, where 2.5 million Americans are expected to visit in 2015.
Many will be business travelers.
Americans tend to stay clear of countries with a reputation for instability. While they’ll still visit isolated tourist centers like Los Cabos and Cancun, Acapulco, which used to be a famous international destination, is now a no-go zone thanks to violence and instability, according to Grant.
“Americans are more aware of the things that are going on globally, thanks to the speed with which information travels now but they understand that it can be very localized,” she said. “The Mexican government has done a good job of convincing Americans that it’s safe to travel to certain parts of the country. ”
However, significant uprisings like the Arab Spring can do lasting damage to a destination. For example, 311,000 Americans visited Egypt in 2010. That number dropped to 170,000 by 2013.
“Egypt has definitely struggled to get travelers back,” said Grant, “especially the long-haul travelers who it takes a while to get there and it’s a lot of money to spend, so people are a little more cautious about where they’re going if there’s much more at stake.”
Thailand seems immune to that rule. Despite months of political crisis that culminated in a May 2014 military coup, Americans continue to visit the Asian nation.
They’re also eyeing less familiar territory.
Not long ago, travel to places like Myanmar and Cuba was discouraged. But now that Myanmar is moving toward democratization, and President Barack Obama is moving to re-establish diplomatic ties to Cuba, Americans are eager to visit both locales before they become full-fledged tourist destinations.
“There are very few countries in the world that have been so isolated and cut off that are now new places to go so you see this really untouched, not overrun [or] overdeveloped area,” Grant said.
While the so-called millennials–people younger than 35–are eager to seek out less traveled destinations, the retiring baby boomers still long to see London, Paris, Spain, and other spots traditionally associated with American tourism.
Given the stronger dollar and lower gas prices, more Americans than ever could finally take that European vacation they’ve always dreamed about.