Colombia ... with beaches, nightlife and jungle to enjoy, it will soon become mainstream. Photo: Getty Images
Remember when no one would go to Cambodia? Or if you did, people would think you had some sort of death wish.
The country was known only for Pol Pot and landmines, for genocide and the sarcasm of a Dead Kennedys song. No one really wanted to go for a holiday in Cambodia.
But obviously things have changed – the demise of a regime led to a boom in tourism. Only 10 years ago the temples of Angkor were getting about 270,000 foreign visitors annually. Last year that number had swelled to more than two million.
Bagan, one of the richest archaeological sites and tourist attractions in Myanmar has over 2000 preserved temples and pagodas built between 11th-13th century. As the country opens up, the destination will be overrun by tourists. Photo: AP
The Dead Kennedys, it turns out, were at the forefront of a tourism revolution. Because that's how things often work: one day a country is a no-go zone, the next it's in recovery mode, and pretty soon the backpackers have turned up to forge the path for tourism.
Among the travelling set now, everyone wants to go for a holiday in Cambodia. Croatia, too, is at the top of many people's lists. Laos is popular. Vietnam is huge.
But what are the next big things? Which countries are you soon going to be wishing you visited now, before everyone else arrived? These are my picks.
Remember the Angkor example, because pretty soon it will be repeated in a place called Bagan. Already the area in central Myanmar, a place strewn with temples and pagodas, is attracting busloads of tourists, but as the country opens up further to foreign visitors, Bagan is going to be overrun. All it needs is a little infrastructure for budget travellers and Bagan will be the place everyone is going.
Despite its years behind the Iron Curtain, and recent unrest over entry into the European Union, Ukraine has the potential to become the next Croatia, or the next Czech Republic, that European country with plenty of beauty and a touch of adventure. From the party scene in Odessa to the charm of Lviv, all of the qualities are there.
There word is out on Colombia. The country formerly known for drug-related violence and, well, drugs, has changed, and the tourists are arriving. With good reason, too – you've got Caribbean coastlines in Colombia, you've got Amazon jungle, you've got nightlife in Medellin, you've got surf beaches on the southern coast and little fishing villages in the north. Soon enough, it will be a mainstream destination.
The signs are good for Iran. With a new government less likely to invent fake fighter planes but more likely, it seems, to open up a dialogue with the West, the country is going to be seen increasingly as a viable tourism option. It's cheap to travel in Iran, plus it's safe, it's friendly, and it's fascinating. It won't stay quiet for long.
Eventually, the violence will stop. It has to. And when that time comes, when the drug cartels loosen their grip on this amazing part of the world, the travellers are going to come flooding back, probably in far larger numbers than before. Mexico is one awesome destination – for food, for history, for culture, for beaches, for nightlife – just waiting to open up again.
Civil unrest in the north and the devastation of the Boxing Day tsunami in the south have slowed the progress of tourism in Sri Lanka, but things are rapidly improving. This is an affordable destination with beaches, mountains, temples, great food and fantastic people. Once people realise it's also safe, they'll come pouring in.
Travellers to Europe looking to get off the beaten path of Italy, France and Spain need only go a little bit further west. Portugal is already popular but it's bound to become even more so, given it has many of the attributes that make those other countries so great – the historical sites, the culture-soaked cities, the great food, the resort towns and beaches, the ease of travel – only with a fraction of the tourists with which to share it.
The power of the people has, unfortunately, been unable to shift Robert Mugabe. The power of Mother Nature, however, inevitably will, and with the demise of Mugabe, Zimbabwe could go one of two ways. It could descend into chaos. Or the former jewel of southern Africa could pull itself together and reemerge as a tourism hotspot. I'm really hoping it's the latter.
Which country do you think will be the next big thing?
Join Ben Groundwater on a cycling tour of Vietnam. Details here.