Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Wed December 30 2015

The Biggest Travel Stories of 2015: Americas Edition

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | December 30, 2015

The Biggest Travel Stories of 2015: Americas Edition

It was clearly a record year for tourism in 2015. Despite several terrifying world events, from massive storms to terrorism attacks, people did not hold back on their travel plans. Some of the destinations in the Western Hemisphere making significant headlines this year include Ireland, the U.K., El Salvador, Mexico and Chile. 

Other major events impacted destinations as well. Pope Francis brought a meassage of hope to the U.S., Mexico recovered from a massive hurricane in Los Cabos — and then suffered another one in Puerto Vallarta — and U.S. travelers soldiered on exploring the world despite threats to their safety from terrorists abroad and homegrown mass shooters.

Here is a breakdown of some of the headlines grabbing the most attention in 2015:

Tourism Ireland and VisitBritain saw record tourism numbers and are planning for further growth in the coming year. Visit Wales highlighted its high-adrenaline attractions as boosting its tourism.

"The Welsh Government has continued to invest in iconic, reputation-changing products such as Surf Snowdonia which will open in 2015 and will be Europe’s first inland surfing lagoon," said Deputy Minister for Tourism Ken Skates.

Britain used on James Bond and the movie “Spectre” to drive tourism and is planning to promote its idyllic countryside in the year to come to continue to boost its tourism industry. Ireland launched its Wild Atlantic Way campaign and, taking a cue from the popularity Ireland gained in tourism driven by television series "Game of Thrones," the country isn’t shying away from promoting its connection to “Star Wars, Episode VII” in 2016 in addition to promoting Ireland's Ancient East.

Tourism Highlights in South America

Tourism booms are not unique to Ireland and Britain, tourism seems to be up around the globe and in South America, some of the highlights are El Salvador, Chile and Colombia.

El Salvador has made a lot of headway in its competitiveness as a major tourism desination. El Salvador has rapidly climbed positions in the world ranking of tourism competitiveness compiled by the World Economic Forum, which analyzes the vacation industry from 141 countries around the world.

It is a South America travel hub and is capitalizing on this fact with its Stopover Project in partnership with Avianca airlines. The country is also attracting major surf competitions, showing of its ability to successfully attract and host major events. El Salvador has also boosted its exposure in the cruise industry, attracting several major cruise lines to its shores in the past year.

Chile made a splash in the world of adventure travel this year. In the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s destination index, Chile was at the top of the heap in 2011 and it showed off its adventurous offerings hosting the Adventure Travel World Summit in October of this year. Following the summit, Chile won recognition from the World Travel Awards as the Leading Adventure Tourism Destination. 

Colombia is another highlight in South America travel. The country has done a complete 180 when it comes to safety and infrastructure throughout the country, undergoing a massive hotel boom (the Four Seasons is just about to open its doors in Bogota) and hosting large corporate events in the country. Although, tourism infrastructure is established within the country, tour operators are just now getting in on the action. Like Cuba, if you want to get in on the authenticity of this destination, go now before Americans discover the country in record numbers.

Twenty-fifteen may also be known as the year Mexico shed some of its security stigma woes. Puerto Vallarta saw a boom in cruise ship arrivals and Acapulco’s hotel industry experienced record occupancy levels in November. Mazatlan also saw tourists come back to its shores after several years of declines.

The country also made headlines as Los Cabos recovered from Hurricane Odile and then made headlines again as it suffered a direct hit from Patricia, one of the largest storms ever recorded. On a positive note: The country’s major tourism hubs, Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo, didn’t receive a direct hit as Patricia passed over the coastline.

Record Tourism in the U.S., Especially Florida

The U.S. made headlines and records in the travel world in 2015. Many destinations experienced record growth, while some experienced a more sluggish year. California, while experiencing some bright spots, is struggling to attract tourists in a year plagued by drought and rumors of El Nino storms.

However, overall headlines were positive. The U.S. is recognized as one of the world’s most competitive tourism markets, placing in the top five on the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index.

Florida might have broken the most records. The state broke tourism records this summer and Miami, which also broke tourism records in 2015, plans for continued growth through 2016. Other cities that experienced a tourism boom include San Francisco, New Jersey coastal towns, the Niagara Falls area, among others. South Carolina also experienced increased visitation in 2015 and Arizona has seen its tourism grow, especially in the meetings department after taking a hit due to the recession. 

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