Exotic beach destinations in the Dominican Republic, Peru and Tunisia dominated Mastercard’s new Global Destination Cities Index list for summer 2018, offering an irresistible combination of relaxation and adventure — while also serving as alternatives to islands that have been affected by natural disasters.
The survey examined cities with the greatest concentration of travelers specifically vacationing or visiting family in 2017, as opposed to traveling for work, and found that Punta Cana, the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, ranked No. 1 on the list with its silky shores and clear waters perfect for sunbathing, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes Mountains, placed second, followed by Djerba, Tunisia, an island off the coast of North Africa that’s home to Mediterranean beaches, great seafood and desert towns with bustling markets and cafes.
Rounding out the list were Riviera Maya, Mexico; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Cancun, Mexico; Bali, Indonesia; Panama City, Panama; Orlando, Fla; and Phuket, Thailand.
It’s been a challenging year for tourism in the Caribbean after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc last fall.
Puerto Rico in particular suffered $95 billion in damage, and an estimated 4,645 people may have died in the storm, researchers from Harvard reported.
And in April, the entire island experienced a blackout, leaving thousands without electricity.
And Hawaii’s Big Island has been rocked by a series of volcanic explosions over the past month that have destroyed homes by spewing toxic gases and sending molten lava into the ocean.
So many wary vacationers are playing it safe by choosing alternative destinations.
“For leisure travelers, destinations are substitutable. And if they’re just looking for a beach, and places like Puerto Rico are unavailable, they’ll go to one in the Dominican Republic or Cancun as a substitute,” Airline Weekly editor-in-chief Seth Kaplan told Moneyish.
The increased interest in Djerba comes three years after many Western Europeans avoided the tiny North African country following two terrorist attacks that massacred 60 tourists in 2015, including a deadly attack on a beach in Sousse, and another terrorist attack at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.
ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks.
Great Britain implemented a countrywide travel ban that is still in effect, and the U.S. still advises travelers to avoid southeastern Tunisia along the Libyan border, as well as mountainous areas in the country’s west, citing the threat of terrorism.
But now a record 8 million tourists are forecast to return to the island as the terrible memories fade — which is even higher than the peak 7.1 million travelers who visited before the attacks in 2014.
The growing popularity in beach destination Palma de Mallorca, Spain could be due to recent terrorist attacks and security concerns in Turkey that have prompted travelers to seek out alternative Mediterranean destinations, Kaplan said.
The European country has welcomed a record 80 million-plus tourists in 2017 alone, climbing 12.4% since 2016.
“Turkey now is bouncing back, but there’s no question that Mediterranean Europe has benefited a lot from things that have gone wrong in Egypt and Turkey,” Kaplan noted.
Meanwhile, domestic destinations like Orlando have seen more foot traffic as budget airlines like Spirit have added more international routes out of Orlando International Airport.
In 2016, Spirit expanded its service by adding seven new routes with destinations to Chicago, Baltimore and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“I don’t exactly understand it,” Kaplan said of the spike in travel to Orlando.
He attributed it to Disney World.
“I have a 3-year-old daughter, and my goal is to see how many years I can get away with not going there, but apparently not everybody feels that way.”