Where in the world, and why
Tourism insiders share their 2017 picks
After a turbulent year in global travel, off-the-beatentrack destinations and those considered “safe” are emerging as the big winners for 2017. While France, Turkey and Belgium have been suffering in the wake of terrorist attacks, tourism industry experts say less-visited countries are getting their chance to shine.
“Wonderful places around the world have gone through pretty tough times over the past 12 months and there’s a bit of uncertainty,” Virtuoso Asia Pacific managing director Michael Londregan says.
“When that happens people start to look at things that have been on their bucket list for a long time, but have never really made it to the top. Europe is doing it tough, but we’re seeing incredible growth for exotic destinations like Mexico, the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica. If the mass market destinations are down, that can lead to dramatic growth for the little guys.”
Londregan adds that places experiencing rapid change or in danger of losing their distinctive character, such as Cuba, will be hot in 2017.
“Destinations that largely base their appeal on geography have an ‘any time’ feel. The Grand Canyon isn’t going to change that much, for example, but Cuba is in a state of rebirth. People are looking at it opening up a bit like they looked at the opening-up of the Eastern Bloc. They are really interested in living history. Cuba is a cool destination to know a bit about and understand. People might say the growth is coming off a low base, but it’s almost off no base.”
As well as a rise in multi-generational travel, Londregan says Australians are booking domestic weekend getaways a few weeks out and lengthy international holidays a year or more in advance.
Luxury travel has also become more about authenticity than opulence, with a trend towards travel experiences that involve learning or giving back. “More parents are investing in travel as an educational tool as opposed to just relaxation and a fun time,” he says. “It’s nice that we’re using our money to create global citizens, rather than just spoilt and indulgent people.”
Adrian Piotto, managing director for Australia and New Zealand of small-group active travel company G Adventures, agrees there is a strong trend towards authentic and responsible experiences, with Sri Lanka among the destinations showing strong growth.
“People veered away from Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami until it was rebuilt,” he says. “Now it’s considered as a hot destination. The locals are friendly and accommodating, it’s an amazing culture that goes back thousands of years, with European influences, and the scenery, where the jungle meets the ocean, is spectacular.”
Abercrombie & Kent managing director Sujata Raman says travellers are embracing previously inaccessible destinations, including Cuba, Iran and Ladakh. Africa is also experiencing a recovery, with Botswana the top safari destination of the moment.
“We had a couple of very low years in Africa with people associating Ebola with the whole continent, and a few political issues,” Raman says.
“There’s a general resurgence, but Botswana is increasing at a much faster pace. It’s made the decision to go after small-scale luxury tourism, and that’s exactly what people are looking for. They don’t want to go where the masses are, they want a sense of exclusivity. The game viewing is exceptional but perhaps not as prolific as in other parts of Africa so you need to search it out, which makes it more exciting. It also means you have to have a high-calibre guide.”
World Expeditions chief executive Sue Badyari says Bhutan is also becoming popular for wildlife viewing. “Bhutan is a small country, but it’s so diverse,” she says. “Sixty per cent of the country is forested, and that means there’s an immense amount of wildlife. It hasn’t been treated as a wildlife destination, but it should be. There are rhinos, Asian elephants, red pandas, Himalayan black bears and snow leopards.
“It’s one of the more expensive destinations because you can only go on a group tour and have to pay a fee of about $US250 ($340) to the government every day, but I think 2017 will be very strong.”
Badyari says savvy travellers are asking more questions when it comes to wildlife conservation, increasingly seeking alternatives to well-known experiences, such as choosing the Choquequirao Trek over the Inca Trail in Peru, the Gokyo Valley trek instead of Everest base camp trek in Nepal, and looking beyond the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain to Via Francigena in
Trinidad, Cuba, top; Blue Lagoon, Iceland, above; Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan, below left; elephants in Botswana