Trip of a lifetime

Trip of a lifetime
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: There's been a recent shift in travel demand to incorporate elements of experience, travel industry veterans say. Locations like Antarctica (pictured), Cuba, Croatia, and Morocco have been increasing in popularity.
PHOTO: Lindblad Expeditions

How many people have you met who've actually stuck to their New Year's resolutions past January?

Instead of fretting over that pesky list of things that'll get chucked out faster than you can say "Happy New Year", take a cue from travel industry experts and map out where you'll spend your resolution-free vacation days in 2016 instead.

With travellers becoming more time-poor, the demand for experiential travel has increased tremendously. No longer satisfied with just superficial sightseeing, the savvy tourist looks for something tangible; something that will leave a lingering mark on far more than just his wallet.

Caroline Lam, executive director of luxury travel management company Quintessentially Travel, says: "In the past, we've had requests from clients visiting Italy which revolved around shopping and dining.

"There's been a recent shift to ones that incorporate elements of experience. We just facilitated a client's desire to feel like a race driver for the day by arranging for him to participate in the Master Maserati Course in Parma and Florence. There's definitely a shift in what travellers are demanding."

Ms Lam pointed to Croatia as one of the hottest destinations of 2016.

President of Insight Vacations (Asia) Evon Ler agrees, acknowledging popular culture as a great motivator for tourism.

Ms Ler, whose experience in the travel industry has spanned over 20 years, says: "The massive popularity of the TV show Game of Thrones has undoubtedly led to peoples' awareness of Croatia as a country with beautiful landscapes and sprawling seas.

"And with many scenes from Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation being filmed in Morocco, combined with its natural beauty, I think that'll be another highly sought after destination next year."

Hajar Ali, the founder of luxury travel agency Urbane Nomads, proposed Mongolia as the place to be. Having just returned from a five month trip split between polo lessons in the UK and horseback archery sessions in Turkey, she, unsurprisingly, didn't recommend Mongolia, the birthplace of Genghis Khan, as a simple Instagram-plumping exercise.

The 35-year-old says: "Mongolia is way off the beaten track, and that can limit some people. Even if you sign up for luxury travel there, the elements are uncontrollable so you're not going to know for sure that everything will go as planned."

"But," she adds, "It's the only place in the world I know of where you can ride reindeers, and that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Another hot destination for 2016, in more ways than one, is Cuba, known for its cigars, beaches, and drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Nico Heath, co-founder and director of luxury tour operator Lightfoot Travel, says: "With the embargo being lifted, travel to this gorgeous country where time has stood still for the past 54 years will flourish."

The 33-year-old recommends that travellers go there as soon as possible to experience the country's authenticity. He explains: "With the increased interest comes the risk of Cuba losing its dreamily dilapidated and magical charm in favour of the American way of life."

And if you're really looking for something out of the way, why not try Antarctica? Mr Heath says: "We've seen a trend of wanting unique holiday destinations which has even extended to remote continents like Antarctica. People really want that 'trip of a lifetime'."

In contrast, ordinarily popular destinations such as France and Nepal, who've suffered from unexpected events this year, will see a decline in tourism numbers in 2016 due to the perception of a lack of security.

But Mr Heath asserts that the hit to their tourism industry would not be a permanent one.

He said: "There is usually a slump in the following weeks or months, but they do always manage to bounce back and return to being a highly visited destination."

This article was first published on January 2, 2016.
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