Emerging travel trends, hot destinations for 2017

Once upon a time, travelling for pleasure was a rare pursuit, reserved for those with the financial means and an intrepid outlook. And although the modern world has granted us easy access to even the farthest of destinations, travelling has been become less of a 'journey', ironically prompting many to turn full circle in search of adventure and authentic experiences.

Whether travelling for business, a romantic weekend or journey of a lifetime, Singaporeans are among the best travelled in the world. In Visa's most recent Global Travel Intentions Study, it showed that a whopping 95 per cent have travelled abroad over the past three years. According to TripAdvisor, high on the hit list for 2017 are Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei and Hong Kong. "The increase in flight options, ability to travel budget (airlines) and a strong and stable dollar has made leisure travel very accessible," explains Janice Lee Fang, the website's Asia Pacific communications director.

For Virtuoso, the industry's leading travel network, this unprecedented level of jet-setting among Singaporeans means that planning is key. "People are now taking a more strategic approach and are designing their annual travel with their advisors, working on multiple trips at the same time," says Michael Londregan, the company's Asia Pacific managing director.

He adds that the most lusted-after holidays now are adventure excursions, often to endangered or changing destinations such as Cuba or The Great Barrier Reef, and surprisingly en masse as a family - a trend that has seen an increase due to time-poor professionals opting to bond over a family holiday. "Many clients are considering more adventurous destinations like the Antarctic. And while family bonding at resort-style properties is still being sought, the overall demand is moving to more visceral styles of travel and experiences."

For those not exactly thrilled by the prospect of shark cage diving in Cape Town or traipsing through the Swiss Alps, cruising - once considered a somewhat unadventurous pastime - has also taken a turn, with the emergence of smaller ships that offer intimacy, adventure and exotic itineraries, along with being able to nip into undiscovered ports that larger ships are unable to do.

"There's a growing importance in how the destinations are delivered," explains Richard D. Meadows, President of luxury cruise line, Seabourn. "What our guests are looking for is that cultural immersion and to experience the destination in a more authentic and true way."

Needless to say, it's the Millennials who are leading the charge. The largest generation in the Singaporean workforce today, this upwardly mobile group of professionals lives for the moment. Huge fans of the sharing economy, they continue to fuel Airbnb's standing within the industry, which has prompted a number of hotel brands to shake up their existing formats and launch their own design-led, lifestyle-focused diffusion lines that emphasises affordability, locality and insider knowledge.

For one, Moxy by Marriott is expanding at an astonishing rate with six recently launched properties and a further 46 in the pipeline over the next two years. Meanwhile, Hilton is working hard on its Canopy brand, having just opened its inaugural ho`tel in Reykjavik.

Elsewhere, technology offerings have been jacked up with speedy Wi-Fi access - a deal breaker not just for digital warriors but for Singaporeans who, according to Visa's study, actively search for accommodation that will provide this.

And as this work-lifestyle balance continues to grow, so does the rise of the 'bleisure' (business and leisure) traveller. Gone are the days when business travel was limited to whistle-stop visits confined within an office building: professionals have discovered the importance of both work and play, motivating many to tack a few extra days onto a business trip to make the most of the country they are visiting.

According to a recent trend report by consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, Asia accounts for more than a third of the globe's US$ 1 trillion business travel sector, making it the world's biggest market. And in a survey of more than 2,500 business travellers in China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore, it emerged that these particular travellers value convenience above all else. This has prompted companies such as accommodation reservation website Booking.com, to launch its business platform. Airbnb now also has a dedicated business travel portal, for which the slogan simply reads: 'travel for work, feel at home'.

This is a sentiment shared by enterprising Amsterdam-based outfit HotelsAhead, the company behind the no-frills Citizen M hotels. Its recently launched Zoku brand offers smart combination lofts that can be adapted for living or for working, promising the flexibility and comforts of an Airbnb rental combined with the services of a traditional hotel. It also highlights the increasingly important work-lifestyle balance that has resulted in hospitality brands across the globe rethinking their wellness offerings to include much more than just a ho-hum fitness centre.

Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, general manager of The Fullerton Heritage says: "There is a heightened awareness for leading a balanced lifestyle and this has sparked off a range of fitness and meditation regimens." Indeed, the precinct has recently developed The Fullerton Wellness Journey that caters to both visitors and locals with a rounded programme of beneficial spa treatments, a fitness agenda including yoga sessions by Marina Bay, and a selection of healthy dining choices from gluten-free to vegetarian options.

Ruben Tabares agrees. The strength and conditioning coach at London's Mandarin Oriental, Mr Tabares is also a nutritional expert who is best known for achieving stellar results in a short period of time. "Nutrition is the key to a long and happy life," he says. "Guests are given an e-booklet with easy-to-follow tips on how to keep up with their programme and how to continue implementing these changes to their lives."

So with that in mind, over the next few pages, we bring you some of the key travel trends along with our hotlist of destinations to experience in 2017.

Five key travel trends

1. The real deal

Cultural homogenisation has prompted many travellers to seek genuine experiences. From food to accommodation, authenticity is key. Generic sightseeing is out and living like a local is in.

2. Family dirst

With many families living geographically further apart, a multigenerational trip is often the only option for today's modern and mobile family.

Read also: Family travel mistakes not to make

3. Off the beaten track

Done with playing it safe, the modern traveller is looking for active experiences in fresh territories that are customised to his or her abilities.

4. Small ship cruising

Photo: The Business Times

No longer an activity for the unadventurous, small ships are appealing to a younger, hipper clientele, finally making cruising cool.

5. Endangered species

Rapidly changing regions, such as Cuba or the Arctic, have prompted many travellers to head to these destinations with a sense of urgency.

Five top adventure destinations

1. South Africa

With its stretches of powdery beaches, acres of winelands, the rich natural beauty of the Garden Route and famous game reserves, South Africa is a diverse country that is worth making the effort to visit. And while travellers used to bypass Johannesburg, the City of Gold is being transformed into a hip urban destination that has become a must-visit before gentrification takes hold.

Where to get your adrenaline rush: Bungee jump off Bloukrans Bridge on the Garden Route. At 216 metres, it is officially the world's highest commercial bridge bungee

2. Galápagos Islands

Photo: Reuters

An archipelago of about 19 volcanic islands dotted in the Pacific Ocean, the Galápagos is a bucket-list destination for good reason. Each island has its own unique landscape that can vary from stretches of white sandy beaches to barren volcanic rocks, while its lack of natural predators makes it an eye-opening spot to view all sorts of wildlife from playful sea lions to gigantic sea tortoises.

Where to get your adrenaline rush: Sleep under a blanket of stars in the highlands of Santa Cruz at the Wild Tortoise Camp

3. Costa Rica

A rugged Central American country known for its beaches, volcanoes and protected rain forests, Costa Rica has over 20 different microclimates and is teeming with wildlife, making it the perfect country to visit for adrenaline-fuelled outdoor activities.

Where to get your adrenaline rush: Zipline over the dense canopy of trees at Selvatura Park in Monteverde

4. New Zealand

Peaceful, and quiet, with rolling bucolic hills and dense native forests, New Zealand is the ultimate escape, perfect for adventure and exploration. Away from the frequented cities of Wellington and Auckland, Dunedin, on the island's southeast coast, is emerging as a must-visit destination, not least for its Victorian and Edwardian architecture and plentiful hiking and cycling trails.

Where to get your adrenaline rush: Head to Rotorua on New Zealand's north island, home to Tutea Dalls, the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world

5. Peru

A South American country home to a slice of the Amazon rainforest and the ancient city of Machu Picchu, high in the Andes Mountains, Peru's wild topography - not least its icy mountain peaks and arid Pacific coast - makes it a wonderland for adventure.

Where to get your adrenaline rush: Sandboard down giant dunes in Huacachina, a tiny oases in the southern Peruvian desert.

Five emerging destinations

1. Iceland

A Nordic island nation, Iceland is best known for its dramatic other worldly landscape, active volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, lava fields and glaciers. Its capital, Reykjavik, is alive with thrumming restaurants, galleries and cafes and is also the perfect gateway to, of course, view the Northern Lights.

What to experience: Sip on champagne, as you soak in the milky waters of the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa surrounded by lava fields, about 40km south west of Reykjavik.

2. Japan

A destination that, for the first time in recent years, is topping all the must-visit lists, Japan is a country with dense cities, mountainous landscapes, and a rich culinary tradition. And while many visitors tend to head to Tokyo, the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido, are fast becoming destinations in their own rights.

What to experience: Sleep on a traditional tatami bed, and soak in an outdoor hot spring bath - or an onsen - in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn.

3. Croatia

A country that offers the best combination of spectacular natural beauty, a dazzling coastline, interesting architecture, exquisite wines and delicious seafood. The country isn't just about its white sandy beaches; further inland, Zagreb is grabbing attention, not least for its culture, arts, music and gastronomy.

What to experience: Grab a cup of coffee atop Mount Srd-, while taking in spectacular views of the old city of Dubrovnik, one of the most iconic views in Eastern Europe.

4. Cuba

Timeworn and dilapidated, Cuba is economically poor, but culturally rich. A country where the clocks have stopped for decades, head there now, before it is swiftly transferred into the 21st century. And with superb diving and fishing, Cuba offers the diversity few Caribbean islands can rival.

What to experience: Take a walk at sunset along Malecón, Havana's shabby 8km -long sea drive, and a quintessentially Cuban thoroughfare.

5. Taiwan

With delicious food, in a lush mountainous landscape, Taiwan has remained largely undiscovered and underrated, making it one of Asia's best-kept secrets. And while a visit to Taipei is a definite must, Kaohsiung, the country's largest port and second city, is a modern urban landscape dotted with airy cafes, bicycle lanes and cultural venues.

What to experience: Meander around Taipei's Tonghua Night Market, a lively spot that has a little bit of everything for everyone. Make sure you sample the rice-wine sweet dumplings in ice.

This article was first published on Dec 24, 2016.
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