Pundits make predictions all the time, but in reality it's hard to accurately judge the mood of travellers.
Suffice to say in 2014 world events -- armed conflicts, ebola outbreaks, kidnappings, etc. -- turned some "must go" destinations into "no go" zones.
But these tragic events -- and a slumping Canadian dollar -- didn't put a damper on travel overall. Data compiled by StatsCan confirms that Canadians continue to be curious about the world, and continue to explore in ever increasing numbers. So it's a no-brainer to declare that more of us will venture beyond our borders -- or at least beyond our city or provincial borders -- in 2015.
But where will we go? I predict the following places will top many must see lists this year:
TRUE NORTH ADVENTURE
My in-box overflows with press releases promoting adventure travel in destinations around the globe. And it makes me wonder why Canada doesn't promote itself more heavily as an adventure travel destination.
Want to swim with beluga whales, mush a dogsled team, take a tundra-buggy safari, see polar bears in their natural habitat, heli-ski in the pristine back-country, ice-climb or walk on glaciers, white-water raft on raging rapids, zip-line over deep canyons or old growth forests, go ice-fishing in the far north, traverse the legendary Northwest Passage, canoe the route of the voyageurs, see the Northern Lights dance across the sky?
You can do all that -- and more -- right here at home. Every corner of our vast country from rugged British Columbia to unique Newfoundland, from the Canada-U.S. border to the high Arctic is an adventure waiting to be discovered.
Hot this year: Toronto will be in the spotlight when it hosts the Pan Am Games (July 10-26) and the Parapan Am Games (Aug. 7-15). Some 7.600 elite athletes from the Americas and Caribbean will compete at more than 30 venues in 16 municipalities across southern Ontario. See caen-keepexploring.canada.travel, seetorontonow.com and toronto2015.org.
Despite our shrinking loonie and a strong U.S. dollar, the States will continue to be our top foreign destination for several reasons. Among them: Solid transportation links by air, road and rail. Diverse experiences -- hot spots for snowbirds such as Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas, and vibrant cities with top notch entertainment, restaurants, hotels and attractions for year-round amusement. An abundance of natural attractions -- ocean beaches, lakes, rivers, mountains, volcanoes, plus hundreds of national and state parks. Easy access for persons with disabilities (progressive legislation has made America the world's most accommodating country).
Hot this year: Arizona. Defined by its "Seven C's" -- copper, cattle, cotton, citrus, climate, cactus and canyons -- a local joke suggests that Canadians could soon be Arizona's "8th C," because so many of us now spend our winters there. All eyes will be on Phoenix from Jan 28 to Feb. 1, when the desert city morphs into the epicentre of family friendly events leading up to the Arizona Super Bowl XLIX. Planned activities include free concerts, beer gardens, autograph sessions, nightly fireworks, and the big game, of course, with pop superstar Katy Perry headlining the famous Halftime show. See visitarizona.com, visitphoenix.com and azsuperbowl.com.
ACROSS THE POND
Late last year, I caught up with Patricia Schultz, the well-travelled bestselling author of 1000 Places To See Before You Die and 1000 Places To See In The United States & Canada Before You Die. Her stop in Toronto was part of a cross-Canada speaking tour sponsored by Trafalgar, which has 117 itineraries in its 2015 Europe and Britain brochure.
"When I hear people say 'I've done Europe,' I want to shake them ... there are so many places to see," Schultz said.
A few of her favourites: Kinsale, Ireland, for its tasty culinary traditions. Provence, France, for its fragrant lavender fields and Roman ruins. Andalucia, Spain, with its unique mix of Islamic-Christian architecture. The Cinque Terre, the ancient "Five Lands" along the Italian Riviera, once only accessible by boat or mule path. Prague, Czech Republic, for its elegant well preserved Old Town and youthful pub scene. The spa lifestyle of Budapest, Hungary, home to more than 120 hot springs. And Ephesus, Turkey, an outdoor "archeological showcase" in a country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
Hot this year: To Schultz's list, I would add Edinburgh, Scotland, truly Europe's festival city with 12 major festivals throughout the year. The blowout month is August with no less than six big events taking place -- the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Edinburgh International Festival, plus the Edinburgh Art Festival, Fringe Festival, International Book Festival and multicultural Mela Festival. See vistbritain.com, trafalgar.com/can and edinburghfestivalcity.com.
The Toronto Raptors' "We The North" campaign may have tapped into some essential part of the Canadian psyche, but the truth is many of us are far from the tough customers portrayed on the basketball court. In fact, when it comes to winter weather, some of us are downright wimpy.
While Canadians love to brag about how we take sub-zero temperatures -- even blizzards -- in stride, in reality when the winter going gets tough we pack our sandals and swimsuits, and run for the Caribbean and Mexico by the millions. (Mexico is our No. 2 destination, Cuba is No. 3.) Tourism folks in sun destinations joke that they cross their fingers and wish for an early winter in Canada because it guarantees more bookings from all parts of the "True North."
Hot this year: With the Dec. 18 announcement of a "historic breakthrough" in relations between the United States and Cuba, expect many Canadians to head to that island before anticipated major changes start to occur. For those wanting to explore outside the resorts, touring independently is manageable but not without challenges such as limited availability of reliable rental cars, bad roads and poor signage. An easier option could be the Cuba Cruise, which offers seven-day itineraries that circumnavigate the island. Cruisers board the Louis Cristal in either Havana or Montego Bay, Jamaica. Other ports of call include Antilla, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos/Trinidad and Punta Frances on the Isle of Youth.
The cruise line's second season began in late December and continues through March. This year more shore excursions have been added as well as air, land and sea packages for Havana departures. See yourcubacruise.com.
Last year the entire world watched as Britain's royal superstars -- Prince William, Duchess Kate and an adorably normal baby Prince George -- ventured first to Australia and New Zealand, then later to New York City. This year, Kate's pregnancy will keep the young family closer to home, but Buckingham Palace has confirmed that Prince William will make a solo visit to China and Japan early in 2015. While the unaccompanied prince may not achieve quite the glam factor of last year's royal family outings, his visit to the Asian countries is sure to create some buzz.
Hot this year: Japan's slumping yen is sparking an upturn in tourism. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, a record 11 million foreign tourists visited Japan in the first 10 months of 2014 -- up 27% from the same period in 2013. To further boost spending by tourists, the Japanese government recently expanded the list of tax free items to include smaller consumables -- snacks, drinks, cosmetics, etc. -- on combined purchases over 5,000 yen (about $48.32). See ilovejapan.ca.