Where in the world, and why

Tourism in­sid­ers share their 2017 picks

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - AN­GELA SAURINE

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

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