If the travel industry were sending out holiday cards, here’s what they would say: “We’re grateful 2021 wasn’t as bad as 2020. But here’s to more trips in 2022.” Although Asia remained shut fairly tight, the US and Europe had been getting back to something approaching normal before the arrival of the Omicron variant. But the reality is that the travel recovery was not where many people expected it to be; people have generally been restrained about the types of trips they are taking, preferring to visit family and keep leisure trips relatively local. It’s a fundamental reshaping of the way we explore the world, with profound implications for the destinations recovering fastest and slowest. The trend shows that “if you’re leisure-oriented, with access to beaches or mountains, you did well – or you did really well”, says Jan Freitag, senior vice-president for lodging insights at global hospitality data and analytics company STR. If you have typically relied heavily on business tourism, as many cities do, the opposite was true. US halves coronavirus isolation guidelines as Omicron chaos spreads According to indexes from STR compiled exclusively for Bloomberg, these were the best- and worst-performing destinations in Europe and the US in 2021. The figures for each destination are based on a hotel industry metric called “revenue per available room”, or RevPAR, which factors average nightly prices and overall hotel occupancy. The index divides current performance of the local market by a 2019 benchmark, comparing data from January 1, 2021, through to the end of November against the same period two years ago. Examples whose numbers are greater than 100 mean that the destination made proportionally higher revenues per available room than in 2019; conversely, a destination with a score of 60 would have made only 60 per cent of its revenue per available room, compared with 2019 results. Best in the US: Florida Keys, Florida: 144.8 Gatlinburg, Tennessee: 132.4 Mobile, Alabama: 128.3 Sarasota, Florida: 122.7 Daytona Beach, Florida: 122.0 The takeaway: Florida, with its minimal Covid-19 restrictions, captured the lion’s share of visits in the US – three of its markets rank in the national Top 5. That’s not only because people knew they could party like it was 2019. The state’s abundant beaches and golf courses offered Covid-safe relaxation for those who wanted to stay distanced and outdoors. Plus, consistently low restrictions made travellers feel insulated from the risk of last-minute cancellations or closures. Gatlinburg, Tennessee, meanwhile, succeeded thanks to its location as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains – part of a broader thirst for national parks. Worst in the US: San Francisco: 34.0 San Jose/Santa Cruz, California: 41.2 Washington DC: 49.4 Seattle: 52.6 Boston: 52.8 The takeaway: the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley continue to see more employees working remotely than any other major urban region. Distancing also translates into a sharp decline in business travellers, probably the primary culprit behind the two lowest numbers. Washington suffered a double whammy in that it couldn’t serve as a hub for international diplomacy until US borders reopened in November – and lost out on domestic visitors as its museums and cultural institutions were closed for half the year. New York, not officially on the list, was the sixth-worst performing market – just slightly behind Boston – though the reopening of international travel increased visitors to the Big Apple in the autumn. Best in Europe: Turkish Riviera: 192.8 Sochi, Russia: 170.2 Provincial Turkey (Ankara and surroundings): 117.0 Central Italy (including Rome, Perugia and Assisi): 115.2 Istanbul, Turkey: 112.8 The takeaway: Turkey was quick to reopen its borders in 2020, establishing itself as a haven for regional European travellers, as well as international arrivals. That gave it a big advantage in 2021: Turkey’s coast, countryside and capital – through which international air passengers often transit – rank among Europe’s top five. Other parts of Europe, defined by STR as either major destinations or broader regions, succeeded based on their ability to provide easily accessible outdoor recreation. Worst in Europe: Amsterdam, the Netherlands: 21.5 Prague, Czech Republic: 22.6 Lisbon, Portugal: 26.7 Brussels, Belgium: 29.1 Helsinki, Finland: 29.1 The takeaway: cities were hard-hit in Europe across the board. Although they’re not on this list, Paris, London and Rome all indexed below 50 per cent of 2019 RevPAR figures. Amsterdam’s authorities may not be too concerned over its status as the continent’s poorest performer; the city has been trying to recalibrate its oversaturated and unsustainable tourism economy for years, so the reset was welcome. Lisbon, however, is a surprise. With an economy more heavily dependent on tourism than some of the other listed cities, Portugal’s capital took a greater hit from border closures and was unable to make up its cumulative deficit, even after American and European visitors started returning in June.