Shawn van der Putten // © 2018 Shawn van der Putten
Feature image (above): van der Putten sees Japan as a top destination for travelers to Asia in 2018. // © 2018 Creative Commons user yoshikazut
Welcoming cultures, unforgettable cuisine, skyscraper-filled cities and majestic landscapes — in Asia and the South Pacific, you can take your pick of any or all the above.
In fact, the region’s diversity is so staggering that it’s no surprise many of its destinations — both popular and offbeat — have earned spots on numerous travelers’ lists; the first half of 2017 saw a 6 percent increase in international tourist arrivals, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
We sat down with Shawn van der Putten, an independent contractor and Asia/South Pacific specialist at Exquisite Travel Group, to chat about what she foresees as the region’s biggest travel trends in 2018.
What were the biggest destinations and travel trends in Asia and the South Pacific in 2017?
As travelers look for “safer” destinations, the South Pacific Islands have become more desirable. All of the islands are working on more family-oriented vacations to entice multigenerational travel.
More Asian countries have been promoting themselves as well. There is so much interest in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong right now, and I have been focusing my education on these areas to better serve my clients.
Which destination do you foresee drawing travelers in 2018?
I would like to say Japan. With the cuisine being so popular here at home paired with the vast history of the country, the diverse experiences and the opportunity to really explore a culture so different from ours, there is surely something for everyone.
Then, for families and multigenerational travelers, Tahiti has family-style overwater bungalows, and Thailand is a fantastic country with so much to offer, including visits to an elephant sanctuary or a traditional Thai puppet show. Taiwan has wonderful bicycle paths for exploring and a vibrant marketplace that is so fun. And, with the increase in flights, all are much easier to visit today.
Additionally, Southeast Asia is becoming very popular with the millennial generation. Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines have so much to offer in the way of cuisine, culture and history. They also offer a unique experience for younger travelers who might be more adventurous — in terms of accommodations and personal comfort — than older travelers or families.
What travel trends do you think will stand out this year?
Experiences are huge. People do not just want to just visit a country; they want to experience it. For some, this means participating in voluntourism, where they give back to a community in various ways, such as working on a building project or reading to kids in school. For others, it means taking a class to learn to cook a local dish, paint a ceramic plate or weave a basket in the local style. Another type of experience is staying with a local family. It definitely gives travelers a more in-depth adventure and makes the trip unique to them.
How do you see guided tours evolving in this region?
There are tours for pretty much everyone you can imagine, whether they be bird watchers, knitters, hikers, scuba divers, butterfly collectors or something else. I think with the right travel agent, any traveler can find the perfect tour for their interests. I would say that smaller cruises and river cruising are trending in Asia.
What do you say to clients who may be concerned about safety and security while abroad?
Quite honestly, most of the places often visited by tourists are much safer than our large cities here at home. My biggest piece of advice is to work with a travel agent. We are keeping tabs on all the relative travel-related issues and can ensure whether a destination is safe for travel. And in this ever-changing world of visa requirements, we can help determine where you need one and where you do not.