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The top destinations for upscale travelers this fall and holiday season

The top destinations for upscale travelers this fall and holiday season


The top destinations for upscale travelers this fall and holiday season


Plaza indepedencia with the building Palacio Salvo and the statue of Jose Artigas in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Vale_t | Getty Images

Wealthy or not, it’s good to know where the well-do-to are vacationing and where the up-and-coming “it” destinations will be for the next few seasons.

A shortcut to that intel comes from the advisors who consult with wealthy Americans about their vacation goals and bucket lists and then book those journeys.

Global luxury travel network Virtuoso polled advisors, crunched numbers from $49.5 billion in bookings and transactions for September through December 2019, and shared a couple of top 10 lists as well as insights on some emerging travel trends. Tried-and-true destinations remain popular but a number of new destinations are emerging as the rich seek out more private, low-key travel experiences or travel with family on multigenerational trips.

The top 10 destinations

“Americans increasingly choose to travel domestically for the holidays,” said Virtuoso, which puts the United States, with its vast array of destinations and attractions, in the lead spot for this fall.

As it has in the past, Europe’s appeal as a summer destination will continue as the weather grows cooler this year, with destinations such as Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain in spots 2, 3, 4, 8 and 10, respectively, on the list.

South Africa and Israel, in the middle of the list, at #5 and #6, remain popular destinations for families seeking “trips of a lifetime” during the holiday season, according to Virtuoso. And Japan, the top emerging “it” country in Virtuoso’s 2019 Luxe Report, takes its place on the Top 10 list of fall and holiday season destinations at #9.

Luxury leisure travel bookings being made by advisors in the Ovation Travel Group for 2019 and 2020 seem to be following those trends, said Gina Gabbard, senior vice president of leisure and independent advisors at travel management company Ovation.

“Italy is overwhelmingly the hands-down favorite among international destinations, with increased interest now in Southern Italy,” said Gabbard. “Our advisors note its amazing food and wine, culture and diversity of things to do, including history and art, along with available luxury accommodations. Direct flights from the U.S. are a plus.”

Despite concerns about Brexit, bookings to the United Kingdom are holding their own, said Gabbard. “The added benefit to our clients is that the value of the U.S. dollar is so strong against the pound.”

Virtuoso’s hot 10 list

Virtuoso also shared its “Hot 10” list, which is made up of countries experiencing the largest increases by percentage in year-over-year bookings. In some cases, the increases come from a country and its offerings being “discovered” or better promoted. In other cases, it’s a sign political fears may be subsiding.

Couple on a tropical beach jetty at Maldives.

Haveseen | Getty Images

For September through December 2019, the list is topped by Uruguay (up 286%), which Virtuoso attributes to the country’s award-winning wineries, pleasant climate and adventure opportunities.

Bookings are also way up for travel to the beach retreats of the Maldives (up 171%) as well as Malta (up 140%), Romania (135%) and Egypt (up 122%). Puerto Rico, Rwanda, Qatar, South Korea and the fjords of Norway (up 96%) round out the list of up-and-coming destinations.

Privacy is a priority

“We’re seeing a rise in exclusive-use travel as people look for the ultimate in privacy and seclusion while getting away from it all,” said Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s managing director for global public relations. “Home rentals, from villas to condos, jumped 56% this year, with millennials and multigenerational trips both contributing to the growing popularity in residences.”

Belles says private yacht travel is also gathering momentum as people look to escape crowds and explore smaller, lesser-known ports of call.

Colin Anderson | Getty Images

When it comes to hotel stays, Becky Powell, president of Virtuoso-member Protravel International, said hyper-personalized stays are in.

“Increasingly, hotels are using technology to connect and build relationships with guests and instantly fix issues,” said Powell. Hotels are also focusing on sustainability and emphasizing connections to the destination or city they are in with local partnerships and unique experiences, she said.

Lots of stories about overtourism have been in then news, “but now we are seeing it translate into client conversations and influence decisions,” said Jack Ezon, founder of Virtuoso member Embark.

“Our clients want to feel like travelers, not tourists. And no matter how wealthy they are, they don’t want to see a Prada or Gucci on every corner,” he said.

Instead, Ezon said upscale travelers are increasingly seeking out charming and “new” secondary destinations, staying in neighborhoods beyond the popular city centers and traveling during the off or shoulder-seasons not to save money, but to have more of the city to themselves.


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