Why these 10 destinations are the fastest growing travel hot spots

30 January 2017

Why these 10 destinations are the fastest growing travel hot spots

This week, we've put on our data-analyst thick-rimmed glasses and we've done some number crunching. And here's what we've come up with – ten countries that have the fastest growing tourism rates.

Without being too scientific-y, the data is measured by percentage increase in international tourism arrivals, according to the United Nations World Tourism Association's 'UNWTO tourism highlights 2016 edition' report – and the results are fascinating.

Here's the ten fastest growing travel hot spots and why they are (like Hansel) SO HOT RIGHT NOW.

Thailand - Up 20.4%

South East Asia is a long way from the large travelling populations of USA and Europe. But it seems that the world is starting to understand what a vast and incredible travel destination South East Asia is.

Thailand has the ultimate combination. First up, there's the absolutely incredible food, ranging from crispy fried fish cakes at a market to rich coconut curries at a Royal Thai restaurant. Then there's the gorgeous beaches with great snorkelling, kayaking and beachfront rock climbing. Add to all that a bucketload of culture – ornate temples, royal cities, fascinating regional communities and incredibly friendly local people – and you've got one of the hottest destinations around.

Panama - Up 20.9%

Central America is one of the regions that is growing in leaps and bounds and it's pretty easy to understand why – laid-back Caribbean beaches and lush rainforests are a pretty top-notch combo.

Panama has packaged up all of Central America's glories in one little country. The Caribbean beaches of the Bocas del Toro archipelago are all about white sand, palm trees and beach bars. The highlands are filled with rainforest, cloud forest, waterfalls and coffee plantations. There's the world-class surf of the Pacific coast, an uber-hip capital city and, of course, Panama even has its very own hat and massive canal.

Guinea Bissau - Up 21.3%

West Africa's coast is a remote frontier for travellers – it's about as out-there as you can get. As more travellers start to look for adventure further afield, destinations like Guinea Bissau hit our travel radar.

A trip to Guinea Bissau is most likely going to be an overland truck journey. Roads are potholed, travel times are unpredictable and you never quite know what each day will bring – it's the spirit of adventure. You'll be camping, hiking, eating local food, visiting small villages and wandering along the beautiful beaches of western Africa. Sounds pretty good, right?

Chile - Up 21.9%

The long slender country of Chile has sat a little in the shadows of nearby travel destinations like the Amazon Basin and Iguazu Falls. But Chile is stepping up in popularity as people discover what it has to offer.

The cosmopolitan capital city of Santiago is an airport gateway to South America and a great place to start exploring. Next, head to the small town of San Pedro de Atacama, sitting high in the arid Andes landscape, surrounded by volcanoes, salt plains and hot springs. Then head south to hike near the jagged rock spires of the Torres del Paine which rise dramatically from the icy landscapes of Patagonia. And all that is before we get to one of the world's mysterious wonders – the famous stone Moai statues of Easter Island.

Bosnia and Herzegovina - Up 26.5%

After the rise of Croatia and Slovenia as travel hot spots, the neighbouring country of Bosnia and Herzegovina is coming into the spotlight. Without a long Adriatic coastline, BH relies on the charm of its cities and its beautiful mountain landscapes to draw travellers.

Sarajevo was a gritty city showing the scars of the civil war that dominated the country in the 1990s. But the resilient locals have restored the city's charms and you'll find a sophisticated town dotted with a cultural blend of mosques, bazaars, churches, galleries and restaurants. The other urban highlight is the town of Mostar, set high in a beautiful valley – the gorgeous Stari Most single-span stone bridge crossing the Neretva River is picture-postcard perfect.

Iceland - Up 29.2%

With mediums like Instagram exposing the dramatic landscapes of Iceland to the world, tourism has leapt up nearly 30% percent. (Being the setting for 'north of the wall' in the universe's favourite show, 'Game of Thrones' didn't hurt either.)

Iceland is a geological themepark, a country studded with volcanoes, geysers, glaciers, fjords and waterfalls. The landscapes are vast and jaw dropping. The capital city, Reykjavik, is as hip as cities get. It's gloriously low-rise, set by the glittering water, casually exuding an urban charm that other cities strive for. It's no wonder the country is on the rise. And anyway, who doesn't want to visit places with names like Skaftafell, Bingvellir and Eyjafjallajökull?

Japan - Up 47.1%

With a strong tourism industry that's been steadily increasing for a few years now, it's kind of surprising to see Japan still so high on this list. Surprising, and also not surprising – it's like the world has finally opened its eyes to the sheer brilliance of Japan.

The thoughtful, quiet, traditional culture is a real drawcard – tea ceremonies, temples, Japanese gardens, geishas, sushi masters and samurai. These are traditions so rich and complex that they are difficult to understand. There's incredible food, world-class skiing and fascinating history. And on top of all of that, there's the kooky urban culture that Tokyo has become synonymous with – crazy vending machines, cat cafes, robot-fighting restaurants. Yes, Japan really does deserve its place on this list.

Myanmar - Up 51.9%

Myanmar (or Burma) had absolutely massive tourism growth of over 50%. Tourism has been steadily increasing since the country opened its doors to travellers and now the magic of the Golden Land is well known.

It's a country studded with unique and remarkable sights. The thousands of crumbling pagodas dotted across the plains of Bagan. The shimmering golden glory of the massive Schwedagon Pagoda. The dramatic mountain-top monastery of Taung Kalat at Mt Popa. The 8000 golden buddhas of Pindaya Caves. On top of these wonders, the country is home to incredibly warm and friendly local people – this is a country that will continue to rise in popularity.

Paraguay - Up 87.2%

Deep in the heart of the South American continent, Paraguay is what you might call a bit of a backwater. But for those wanting to get right off the tourist trail, Paraguay is delivering off-the-beaten-track authenticity. 

It's a land of contrasts and nowhere is this more apparent than at the church of Yaguaron, 50 kilometres from the capital city of Asuncion. Outside, the church is a simple colonial whitewashed building with a pitched roof. Step inside and you are in for a surprise – you'll be overwhelmed by the the ornate gold work and painted religious carvings – this is one of the most lavishly decorated churches in South America.

Tajikistan - Up 94%

Nearly doubling its tourism, Tajikistan rollicks into first place with the highest growing tourism figures. Why? Perhaps because it's the epitome of the road less travelled.

If you haven't heard of Tajikistan, you're not alone. It's not well known, it's pretty remote and pretty quiet. Travelling along part of the old Silk Road, you'll see Mongol and Persian influences as well as reminders of Soviet occupation – this is a land that has seen some serious history. You'll wind through high mountain passes between towering peaks, travel past high-altitude lakes and across broad open plains. You might stay with a family in a yurt in a camp with no running water, or sleep on the floor of a dorm with only your own torch for light. Tajikistan offers a real out-there adventure for the traveller seeking something unique and amazing.