Last updated: 03:05 PM ET, Sun December 27 2015

EMEA Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories For The Year Ahead

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | December 27, 2015

EMEA Outlook 2016: The Biggest Stories For The Year Ahead

Some of the biggest stories of this year will spill over into 2016. New trends are on the horizon for the airline industry, and we will see if 2015’s up-and-coming destinations live up to the hype and become 2016’s must-visit places. Some destinations in Asia and Europe, meanwhile, will be trying to recover from lengthy slumps caused by terror attacks, economic troubles or just being overshadowed by their neighbors.  

Many of next year’s travel headlines will undoubtedly have to do with security and safety, subjects that captured the media’s attention for most of this year as well. Virtually every country in the world will be trying to position itself to take advantage of the rapidly growing outbound markets in India and China, while also looking for the next major market (Indonesia? Nigeria?). 

Here are seven stories from Europe, Asia and the Middle East that we will be looking forward to in 2016. 

China and India outbound markets

The focus of tourism bureaus around the world will continue to shift in 2016. 2015 saw an increased concentration on outbound travelers from China. The Chinese market is too big and too lucrative to be ignored. We can expect to see even more competition in 2016, with countries in North America, Africa, Asia and Europe sending representatives to host promotional events inside China. These countries will also be improving infrastructure to make it easier for people from the PRC get around when they visit. 

India’s outbound market could actually be a bigger story in 2016. New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines are trying to attract India’s travel-happy young professionals with promotional campaigns and relaxed visa rules. Airlines will also play a part in this story as they jostle for position on the busiest routes used by travelers from the subcontinent.   

Euro 2016

The biggest story on the European continent will be the Euro 2016 soccer tournament in France. However, this is not just a sports story. After the terror attacks this past November, one of the first things that French leadership said was that the highly anticipated tournament would go on as planned next summer. These statements turned the Euros, which are held every four years, from a mere sporting event into a benchmark that will show Europe’s ability to move on past the attacks. 

Security will certainly be very high during the tournament. Sports fans will be watching to see who wins, but the entire world will be rooting for France to pull off a safe event. A successful Euro 2016 will signal that France (and Europe as a whole) has a handle on security and things have returned, more or less, to normal.  
Which Middle Eastern destinations will rise? 

The growth of Dubai and Abu Dhabi is not really breaking news. The two emirates have become major destinations, and they now stand among the world’s most important air travel hubs. Dubai is projected to become the world’s busiest airport, if not in 2016, then soon thereafter. Places like Qatar and Bahrain are also wanting to get in on what is essentially the Middle East’s post-oil boom. 

Award-winning Qatar Airways has given its tiny namesake country a leg up in the race for third place amongst Gulf destinations. At the same time, relatively liberal Bahrain is arguably the most accessible destination to Western tourists. Now that the buzz created by the UAE's building boom is in the past, we will see in 2016 if these Middle Eastern destinations will be merely air hubs for business people and connecting travelers or whether they will become complete destinations for holiday-makers.  

Myanmar in the mainstream?

In many ways, Myanmar’s major story has reached a conclusion. The country has made the transition from military to civilian rule. The opposition party was successful in late 2015 elections, and they now control parliament. Those associated with the former regime seem to be accepting the results. 

Now the question is how fast and how far Myanmar can develop. 2016 will be a new beginning for the country, but there will be questions about how well the novice government can handle the development. Myanmar is already growing as a tourist destination. Infrastructure improvements are needed before Myanmar can join the mainstream as far as tourism is concerned. New hotels are the first signs that this “upgrade” is taking place. How will the new government handle future development? 

By the end of 2016, we will either be calling Myanmar "the next Thailand" or wondering whether it can keep pace with other not-yet-arrived destinations like Laos. 

Australia’s growing internationalism

Australia is trying to take full advantage of interest from tourists from all over the Asia Pacific region. A huge number of Chinese and Japanese tourists traveled Down Under this past year. More could be on the way. It will be interesting to see how far Australia goes to try to take advantage of this influx of travelers in 2016. 

There is talk of adding Chinese to road signs so that tourists from the PRC can get around easily. While Australia might not go that far, it will certainly be trying to make some changes to improve the user experience. Other regional destinations are also competing to get tourists from wealthy Asia Pacific nations. Long lines at immigration, lacking tourist services and other problems could, according to some in Australia, cause the country to miss out on a golden opportunity to be THE Eastern Hemisphere destination for travelers from China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and India. 

More Americans in Vietnam

Vietnam is cozying up to its former adversary, the U.S. Washington supports the territorial claims of Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Malaysia in the South China Sea. This, along with growing trade relations driven by overseas Vietnamese investment in the “motherland,” has led to friendly relations. Vietnam is now talking about reserving some of its most liberal visa policies for American travelers. Hanoi has said that it is considering multiple-entry visas for six months or one year for American travelers. Vietnamese Americans might not be required to have any visa whatsoever. 

Thus far, these new policies are still nothing more than proposals. However, they point to a trend that will become evident in 2016: Vietnam and its neighbors want tourism and investment to come from places other than China.  

How many countries in Iberia?

Regional loyalties have always been strong in Spain. The Iberian country is made up of provinces that have a large degree of autonomy. One province, Catalonia, actually voted to secede from Spain in a recent poll. Obviously Madrid does not want this to happen, especially since the Catalan capital, Barcelona, is one of the most popular tourist cities in Europe and a major player in Spain’s economy.  
Catalan independence advocates claim that they are going to go ahead with secession plans, not in 2016, but in 2017. After Scotland’s independence vote in 2014, this seems more possible than ever before. By the end of next year, we should know where Catalonia (and one of Europe’s biggest tourist destinations, Barcelona) stands as far as independence. 

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