IT’S that time of year for Departure Lounge to brush off her crystal ball, swirl her gold-hoop earrings and predict which destinations will be hot and happening in 2008. In last week’s Travel&Indulgence, we looked at what’s new and noteworthy across Australia, from James Baillie’s Southern Ocean Lodge on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island to the booming development on the NSW New Tweed Coast. Industry pundits predict a steady year for domestic tourism but it’s exciting to see so much quality product emerging.
The trends this year have much to do with the strength of the Australian dollar, and this doesn’t help on the home front. For us, it’s cheap and thrilling to head to Asia on low-cost carriers and our currency is giving us more bang (or baht or yen) for the buck. Conversely, overseas tourists who may have seen Australia as a relative bargain in the past — US and Japanese travellers, in particular — are looking elsewhere.
Lounge stakes her gypsy skirts and fringed shawls on the following: ■ JAPAN: The Peninsula Tokyo has opened and the Japanese capital is enjoying a tourism surge; the shaky yen has suddenly made Japan a good-value destination. Sydney chef Luke Mangan’s restaurant Salt Tokyo in the smart CBD hub of Marunouchi is the place to wine and dine. www.peninsula.com; www.pjgroup.jp/salt. ■ CHINA: All eyes will be on China during the Olympic Games in Beijing (August 824); infrastructure is on track, the third terminal of Beijing’s Capital International Airport is about to open and, in the spirit of celebration, Olympics-themed wedding rings are being marketed to the masses. The Paralympics will be held from September 6 to 17, which should be a better time to visit, free of quite so much hoopla. www.http://en.beijing2008.cn. ■ EUROPE RIVER CRUISING: To voyage effortlessly along rivers such as the Rhine, Danube and Volga is proving a smart and popular alternative to coach travel. Typically, cruises last about seven days and accommodation is of a similar standard to a landbound four stars. Such is the boom that one operator, Scenic Tours, is taking delivery of three additional vessels in 2008 and 2009. www.scenictours.com.au. ■ VIETNAM: A recent email to Lounge from Jim Sullivan of Mandarin Media, based in Vietnam, gives details of the InterContinental Hanoi Westlake, which opened in December and is the first of five InterContinental properties to come on line in this increasingly luxurious destination. Sullivan also tells Lounge that the Nam Hai, on China Beach near Hoi An, the first GHM hotel in Vietnam, has been named by a US magazine with the unlikely title of Cigar Aficionado as best new international beach resort in the world. Travel&Indulgence ’ s Sharon Fowler stayed at the Nam Hai late last year and her report will appear soon. www.intercontinental.com; www.ghmhotels.com. ■ INDIA: This is Lounge ’ s favourite destination so it always has a fair chance of making any must-go list. Those in the know are talking about the new safari collection managed by Taj Hotels and Conservation Corporation Africa. There are two ‘‘ tiger circuit’’ camps operating, in Bandhavgarh and Pench national parks, with two more, in Kanha and Panna national parks, opening this year. www.tajsafaris.com. The Four Seasons Mumbai is about to open and, with the Commonwealth Games being held in New Delhi in 2010, expect lots of development in the capital, including an Amanresort. www.tajsafaris.com; www.fourseasons.com.
Where else? The British city of Liverpool, birthplace of the Beatles and the chip butty, is the 2008 European Capital of Culture. In Canada, Quebec is planning a year-long knees-up for its 400th birthday. Indonesia hopes to attract seven million foreign visitors during Visit Indonesia Year 2008; Zambia is Africa’s rising safari star and Abercrombie & Kent plans to open four glam camps there in 2008. Oman is on the radar, too, with a new Evason resort and spa at Zighy Bay, awash with private pools and gliding butlers. Terminal three at the super-efficient Changi airport in Singapore has opened and Singapore Airlines reports great passenger feedback to its A380 aircraft, all of which bodes well for a bustling Year of the Rat in this tropical city-state.
Kevin Donnelly, a contributor to The Australian , advises Lounge that TheNew YorkTimes has his favourite destination, Laos, atop its list of 53 places to go in 2008. The paper decrees, way too grandly, that ‘‘ Vietnam and Cambodia are so 2007’’. And the 53rd choice? New York . . . so backyard, Lounge supposes.
On the cine-tourism front, highs should include Gabriel Garcia Marquez fans flocking to LoveintheTimeofCholera sites in Cartagena, Colombia (the movie opens here on April 17) and, as a nice bonus for our domestic tourism industry, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia epic should bring increased inbound traffic in late 2008.
A round-up of the world’s best new hotels will appear in Travel&Indulgence in coming weeks. ■ LOUNGE loathes: E-cards of any kind, especially with 5-megabyte Santas dancing across the screen. ■ FIND of the week: TheGoodHusbandof ZebraDrive , the eighth title in the hugely popular No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, will be out in paperback on February 1 (Abacus, $22.95). The star of the Botswana-set novels, the traditionally built Precious Ramotswe, is a red bush tea addict and the publisher suggests McCall Smith fans should follow her lead and settle into reading the book with a calming cup of red Rooibos tea, available in caffeine-free loose leaves from Melbourne’s T2. www.T2tea.com. ■ LOUNGE loves: Australia’s first 100 per cent solar powered and carbon neutral operator has perfected an eco resort 90 minutes northwest of Townsville. Hidden Valley Cabins and Tours, located near Running River on the western slopes of the Paluma range, operates with no support from a power grid and practises energysaving measures and green initiatives at every level; congratulations to Ian and Bonnie McLennan for showing the ecotourism industry how it should be done. www.hiddenvalleycabins.com.au.