Intrepid has doubled its Middle East departures based on increased interest in the region. // © 2017
Feature image (above): Abu Dhabi was named one of the fastest-growing destinations in the Middle East. // © 2017
It’s starting to feel like we say it every year, but it bears repeating: It has been a rough year. Between natural disasters and global political unrest, 2017 has felt, for many, particularly unstable.
And yet, travel remains a priority for most clients, who are increasingly seeking out far-flung destinations and unique activities that will immerse them in a location.
“People are no longer destination-collecting,” said Misty Ewing Belles, managing director of global public relations for Virtuoso. “For a while, it was about stamps on your passport. Now, people are collecting experiences; they’re looking for memories that will last a lifetime.”
According to the “2018 Virtuoso Luxe Report,” travelers are still booking trips to tried-and-true destinations such as Italy, which ranked as the No. 1 global destination. However, Iceland landed at No. 2 (along with ranking as the No. 1 emerging destination). These locales are followed by Southern Africa, France and Australia/New Zealand (tied), respectively.
“All of Africa did really well for us,” Belles said. “We saw South Africa pop, but also Kenya, Botswana and Morocco. It’s the diversity of Africa that really appeals to people.”
Beyond Iceland, emerging destinations doing well for Virtuoso advisors include Portugal, Colombia, Cuba and Antarctica.
“Exploring new destinations was the top trip motivator,” Belles said. “Advisors are telling clients to go beyond their comfort level and challenge themselves to do something unexpected in these destinations — we’re seeing things like swimming with mantas, shark dives, ziplining, ballooning and helicopter tours.”
Leigh Barnes, North American director for Intrepid Travel, echoes Belles’ sentiments.
“Expect to see a lot of underrated destinations start to emerge for U.S. travelers,” Barnes said. “As global concerns of overtourism are splashed on headlines and sparking conversations, we have noticed that travelers are searching for alternative destinations to balance the impacts of tourism. So destinations like Moldova, which welcomes 121,000 travelers a year — the amount Croatia sees in three days — and is home to the world’s largest wine cellar, and Portugal (as an alternative to Spain) are predicted to see more travelers in 2018.”
For Intrepid, the Middle East has been especially sizzling. In the first quarter of 2017, bookings to Egypt, Israel and Jordan were up 70 percent for the operator. Because of the interest, Intrepid has doubled its departures in the region and now offers more than 45 itineraries throughout the Middle East.
Immersive experiences lead the way when it comes to luxury travel destinations, too. Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel, says that travelers are remaining loyal to luxury destinations such as the Galapagos Islands, the Mediterranean and the South Pacific.
“They cater to both older and younger generations who are seeking relaxation and more immersive travel experiences,” he said.
Koepf additionally notes that clients are seeking to stay longer at cruise ports of call; partake in a region’s local food and culture; and plan more intimate trips.
For art and culture experiences, Ignacio Maza, executive vice president of Signature Travel Network, points to Cape Town, South Africa, thanks to the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which he calls “the most anticipated museum opening in Africa, by a mile.”
Musee Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech, Morocco, will draw visitors, as well, Maza says, along with the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the Arab Emirates.