Jack Ezon, president of New York–based travel agency Ovation Vacations, works with a number of Generation X and Y clients. Fear, he believes, incited by the likes of terrorism and Zika, dictated many of their sojourns in 2016. “The world of possibilities shrunk for most American travelers. While frustrating and initially disappointing, it forced people to explore secondary, less-touristy destinations,” he says.

Bradu, Sibiu - Romania
Photo: Sebastiaen – Bradu village, Sibiu, Romania

This motivation, coupled with an affinity for immersive, sophisticated experiences unfolding in local neighborhoods rather than dime-a-dozen designer-store-anchored shopping drags, led many to seek out cities like Dubrovnik, Berlin, and Budapest.

What do they have in common?

Robust artistic and culinary identities that help unleash what Ezon calls the “Indie Brooklyn Effect.” While Danube River cruises often afford glimpses of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, java aficionados prefer to actually wander the picturesque streets of Old Town for an impressive café scene. Likewise, a tour through Dracula’s Bran Castle in Romania should be paired with a tour of the capital, Bucharest, where the opulent mansion of executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is now open to the public. An episode of the Netflix favorite Chef’s Table, devoted to Ana Roš of the countryside restaurant Hiša Franko, (a two-hour drive from scenic Lake Bled) has also given Slovenia a boost in tourism.

Dubrovnik, Croatia - Game of Thrones, Season 6
Photo: Dubrovnik-Croatia, worldaroundtrip, Flickr

We are witnessing a significant growth of arrivals to emerging European states,” explains Siniša Topalovic, managing director of hospitality consultancy Horwath HTL’s Zagreb office. “Once predominantly visited by aging baby boomers, now the regions are attracting younger customer segments looking for excitement, safety and a ‘different’ Europe, where there is the charming reminiscence of past socialist times with modern twists.

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