Tapping into the experiential travel trend—and ideal for repeat clients looking for something new—a host of emerging destinations are gaining popularity.
Travel Market Report asked tour operators and travel agents for their take on emerging destinations of note. Here’s what they had to say.
River cruises’ popularity continues to grow, especially among clients seeking off-the-beaten-path journeys, said agent Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel agency in Coral Springs, Fla.
“Many cruise lines and tour operators are offering more exotic destinations, so they are becoming more welcoming and accommodating to travelers.”
She noted that river cruises and inland Southeast Asia journeys are hot this year – with tour operators adding new itineraries to Myanmar, Bhutan, South Korea, and beyond.
“Core business for all river cruises is still Europe, but year over year, our average growth for emerging markets is 18%,” said Patrick Clark, Avalon’s managing director.
“The interest is there, the demand is there. They can still have creature comforts yet get immersed in new destinations.”
Avalon’s passengers, typically, are baby boomers, savvy-travelers, with some college education, and a minimum $75,000 household income.
“They’re individuals who want to experience a destination before large numbers of tourists visit and see destinations that are still in their infancy,” Clark said.
When charting emerging destinations, Avalon seeks out navigable rivers, access to remote, native villages, and interesting history.
Cruises along the upper Mekong River in north Vietnam are a future possibility, Clark said.
Myanmar ranks high
Among emerging Southeast Asia destinations, Myanmar ranks tops in several surveys.
“Tourism here is growing exponentially since the country opened up in 2012,” said Natasha Martin, Myanmar-based Asia associate for the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) in Seattle.
United States Tour Operation Association (USTOA) members, for a third straight year, ranked Myanmar as 2015’s top emerging destination – ahead of Cuba, Croatia, Iceland, India, Peru, Sir Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and Panama.
As Asian nations embrace tourism’s economic value, travelers “are recognizing the destinations as mysterious and exotic, yet rich in history and culture,” said Terry Dale, USTOA’s president and CEO.
A ‘spiritual journey’
For operator A&S Signature Journeys, Myanmar, Bhutan and Mozambique are top emerging destinations, said Sheri Fazleabas, the Ada, Michigan-based founder.
“There are only two airlines that fly in and out of Bhutan. Most of the good accommodations options are sold out quickly,” Fazleabas said.
“Flying there is a spiritual journey in itself, with visitors being treated to breathtaking views of the Himalayan peaks,” she added.
Alluring Asia in Lynden, Wash., also reported “an upswing in travel requests to Bhutan,” according to Sandy Lindsay, founder and president.
Laos, Thailand, India and Japan (the latter three already fairly well-known) also intrigue travelers seeking deeper connections with exotic culture, customs, people and food, said Mark Yacker, North American director for Insider Journeys in Westminster, Colo.
Also growing in popularity are Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Sir Lanka, he added.
Also relatively more familiar, South Korea is garnering more attention, according to Journeys International which is expanding tours into the destination, said Robin Weber Pollak, president of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Journeys International.
“Cuba is on the verge, but South Korea is our newest destination. It’s difficult for Americans to figure out, but it’s easy to get to Seoul,” she said.
Mozambique, Sri Lanka
Southeast Africa’s Mozambique is also growing as an “emerging cultural destination,” Pollak said, while Sri Lanka, the island southeast of India, shows strong potential, said Fazleabas.
Tourism officials in Sri Lanka and Kerala, India, about 325 miles apart, are working to form regional partnerships to attract a cruise ship and seaplane service between Sri Lanka’s Colombo and Kochi in Kerala state.