Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Thu December 31 2015

Travel 2015: EMEA Stories of the Year

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | December 31, 2015

Travel 2015: EMEA Stories of the Year

Photo by David Cogswell

2015 brought major changes to the travel industry in Asia and Continental Europe. Some countries enjoyed success in the form of an increased number of international arrivals, other places saw their tourism stock fall, and a few manged to succeed against expectations.   

As with every year, there were tragedies and controversies to go along with the positive stories in 2015. Threats of terrorism continued to make travelers uneasy, and currency market fluctuations caused some people to forget their international ambitions and seek out domestic destinations. 

Overall, 2015 in Europe and Asia is probably best described as a "year of transition." These seven stories are ongoing, and some will probably be making headlines well into 2016.

Paris Violence

Terrorism was THE story in the media this year. Attacks occurred in Africa - in Kenya and Mali - and, not once, but twice, in France. Assassinations of cartoonists at a magazine called Charlie Hebdo not only put France on edge, but also caused some people to start rethinking their travel plans to the world’s most visited city. 

The far deadlier attack that occurred on Nov. 13 in Paris caused more damage to the tourism scene because the victims were targeted indiscriminately in cafes, restaurants and a concert hall. Even while people mourned the attacks, the city was busy increasing security and reopening its iconic attractions. The number of international arrivals in France might be down in the short term, but people are still traveling. Airlines, hotels and travel agents have still kept their long term plans in place. 

China's Outbound Market

China is a power when it comes to the global economy. Its greatest asset, the thing that everyone wanted a part of in 2015, was its wealth of outbound tourists. Huge numbers of travelers left China this year. Tourist bureaus around the world spent a great deal of time and money trying to capture this massive amount of outbound traffic

Not only was there a high number of Chinese travelers, but surveys have shown that, on average, these tourists spend more than tourists from other countries. Places as far away as Africa and the U.K. are trying to promote themselves in China. Closer to home, Japan, South Korea and Thailand were able to cash in on the Chinese tourism gold rush.

Thailand should have, by every estimation, had a terrible year for tourism. Military rule and an August bombing in Bangkok could have sent their arrival numbers spiraling downward. Luckily, the tourist traffic from China never slowed, actually allowing the Kingdom to finish above its projected totals

Myanmar opens up

Thailand’s neighbor, Myanmar, had an even more momentous 2015. The slow change from years of military rule started to speed up this year. This process culminated with the opposition party, led by famed democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, dominating the first fair elections in decades. This is what made headlines in the international press, but the tourism industry in Myanmar has been moving forward for several years now. 

In 2012, the number of international arrivals topped one million. In the next 12 months, the country broke the two million threshold. In 2014, the official number was more than three million. It wasn’t until this year, however, that people really started to take notice of Myanmar’s tourism potential.

The rapid growth has caused some to question whether Myanmar has padded its arrival numbers. Even if this is true, the amount of investment money flowing into the tourism sector and the buzz in the travel media both signal the arrival of the country on Southeast Asia's main stage.

End of Schengen?

The combination of terror attacks in France  and the migrant crisis across Europe has lead some to question whether one of the hallmarks of travel in the EU will last. The Schengen Agreement allows people to easily move within the EU after passing through a single immigration point. This borderless type of travel, on trains and buses and low-cost carriers, had come into question even before the Paris attacks of Nov. 13. 

The migrant crisis had already put Schengen countries at odds. Some wanted to build fences or force migrants, from the Middle East and Northern Africa, to cross into the EU elsewhere. After Nov. 13, countries like Belgium and Sweden opened border checkpoints. As security concerns grow and EU members argue about were migrants should go, the agreement hangs in the balance. Some experts think that Schengen is doomed, but others think that the issues will eventually blow over because borderless travel is too important to the continent's economy.   

This could become one of the biggest stories of 2016 as well. 

India’s airline ambitions

India made headlines by announcing that it plans to democratize its air travel industry. The country of more than one billion has said that it will attempt to cap fares and also renovate and reopen airports in underserved areas. This could be one of the world’s biggest air travel movements. And it could put a huge strain on the country's airport instrastrucutre. 

This announcement comes at a time when India’s airlines are struggling. Many are complaining about the suggestion of capping fares on domestic routes and wondering where the money for extensive renovations is going to come from.  

Middle Eastern hubs take off

Dubai now has the third busiest airport in the world. It is THE Middle Eastern hub and also the gateway between Europe, Asia and Africa. Abu Dhabi has also seen a significant rise in the number of passengers. In 2015, a third Gulf destination and third airline (after Emirates and Etihad) came into the spotlight. Qatar Airways earned the prestigious top spot in the annual Skytrax airline quality survey. Its main hub, Doha's Hamad International, sees flights from all over the globe.

The goal, for the airline and its hub, is to become a third option for connecting travelers and business travelers coming to this booming region. And booming it is. Early in 2015, Dubai became the world's third busiest airport. Experts think it could become the busiest in the near future.   

Currency markets affect travel  

Travelers from both Russia and Australia felt the pain of the forex market this year. The weak Aussie dollar kept people at home or, at the very least, inspired them to travel domestically. Things were worse in Russia, where even Australians could get a good deal on the Ruble. 

Americans, meanwhile, were enjoying the best exchange rate in years in Continental Europe. Though the British pound still remained strong in 2015, the Euro struggled.  

Americans could have taken advantage of the exchange rate to travel to Africa, but fears of Ebola and terrorist warnings kept many away, even in places like South Africa, which were not affected by either issue. 

As a tumultuous year ends in Europe and Asia, the travel world will still have these stories on its mind. The positive spin on each one is that there is still a possiblity that something good could come out of 2015's biggest events in the coming year. 


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