The top five fastest-growing destinations of 2023

Japan’s popularity has surged the most, according to new data from American Express Travel. Here are the top trending spots for next year too

Pleasure boats in Porto Cervo Marina, on the island of Sardinia, Italy. Photographer: Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg

Young people were really, really disappointed they couldn’t go to Japan during the Covid-19 pandemic. They made up for it, big time, in 2023.

Japan, one of the last countries to re-open its borders, became the fastest-growing destination for Millennial and Gen-Z travellers in 2023, according to data from American Express. Bookings were up more than 1,300 per cent compared with the “normal” pre-pandemic year of 2019, the company said.

The data comes alongside American Express’ annual trending destination list released Tuesday, which suggests places to go for 2024 based on card members’ bookings and Amex Travel consultants’ recommendations. For example, if travellers like the culture and natural beauty of Sedona, Arizona, in the American southwest, they should try visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico, instead, the company suggests. Amex’s global trend report released earlier this year indicated that 89 per cent of younger travellers say they want to visit someplace they’ve never been before, off the beaten path.

Some of those places off the beaten path made it to the top five fastest-growing destinations of 2023: the northern Indian province of Rajasthan, home to the cities of Jaipur and Udaipur, where bookings increased more than 600 per cent; and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where bookings increased more than 400 per cent.

Like Japan, Australia—where bookings were up almost 800 per cent since 2019—endured an extensive pandemic lockdown that made travelling there extremely difficult; in the case of Rajasthan, the prolonged suffering associated with India’s brutal second wave of the pandemic caused a significant slowdown to the travel recovery.

Demand was pent up for these destinations, with the pressure valve releasing just this year, says Audrey Hendley, president of American Express Travel.

“Japan has been on the big list of trips that people want to take and trips are getting booked now further in advance,” she says. People are now also seeing the country as a potential ski destination, not just making the typical stops in Tokyo and Osaka, she says.

Rounding out the top five growing destinations for 2023 was a perennial hotspot that managed to keep the momentum growing after strong performance in both 2021 and 2022. Italy came in at number four with an increase of more than 500 per cent, while San Miguel de Allende in Mexico had a 400 per cent rise in bookings.

Other companies say their data matches up directionally with that of Amex.

“Japan is absolutely surging in interest,” says Carolyn Addison, head of product at luxury travel outfit Black Tomato. “From the sales side, we saw a 93 per cent increase in Japan bookings versus 2019, and a 175 per cent increase in bookings from 2022.” In absolute numbers, she says it’s the second most popular country for trips globally this year, second only to Italy—a testament to Japan’s growing year-round appeal.

“While popularity over cherry blossom and festive seasons will never wane, some [clients] have embraced travelling over the summer despite the heat,” she says, adding that winter travel to Japan has also surged both for skiing and culturally-driven trips.

Looking forward to 2024, Amex recommneds the lesser-known town of Porto Cervo in Sardinia rather than the well-travelled town of Amalfi. “It’s a great alternative—still glamorous without being as busy,” Hendley says. “Our customers don’t want to go to the place they’ve been seeing everywhere on Instagram.”

Looking for inspiration for 2024? Here’s Amex’s list of the top 10 destination suggestions.

If you like Blue Mountains, Australia, try: Adelaide Hills, Australia

If you like Istanbul, Turkey, try: Bodrum, Turkey

If you like Amalfi, Italy, try: Porto Cervo, Italy ​​​​

If you like the US Virgin Islands try: St. Kitts & Nevis

If you like Sapporo, Japan, try: Niseko, Japan

If you like Riviera Maya, Mexico, try: San Miguel De Allende, Mexico

If you like Sedona, Arizona, try: Santa Fe, New Mexico

If you like the Maldives try: The Seychelles

If you like Agra, India, try: Udaipur, India

If you like the Dolomites try: Zermatt, Switzerland