Our crystal ball promises a bumper year for tourism in 2017. We’ve put our ear to the ground and identified a few trends pointing out the hot destinations and must-do experiences. Reading between the lines, we’ve spotted some valuable clues as to what our clients will be dreaming about and planning towards this year. There’s an eclectic mix of old favourites and traditionally less touristy destinations on the cards. Take a trip around the world with me..

Sacred Valley of the Incas, Peru. Imagine the iconic Machu Picchu trekking experience on a less crowded trail, surrounded by snow-capped mountains of mind-numbing magnificence, riding mules in lush valleys in virtual isolation, crossing the Apurimac River, en route to the newly re-discovered Incan site. It’s the Latin American fantasy most people identify with. Standing still amid this ancient splendour, letting the sounds of the jungle whisper to you the echoes of Conquistadors invading this mysterious place. How do you tap into that? It’s about making your traveller feel like an explorer/voyager.

Perhaps you sell this destination or somewhere similar that promises an equivalent experience in answer to the question: Where do we and our fellow humans come from?

Perhaps your destination tells a story of similar appeal that shows how its historical inhabitants lived, worked, worshipped, created art, survived.. It appears travellers want to confront mortality in a way, but in a location framed by vast natural beauty, a bit like an existentialist adventure retreat.

Strip away the usual associations made with travel to Peru and we’re left with a concept. I can think of a number of other spots in the world where this type of experience could be re-created. What do you think?

South Australia. The region is a veritable touristic smorgasbord of in-destination attractions from picturesque landscapes, both inland and coastal, to a bustling wine tourism industry, featuring food and wine festivals to suit all sorts of palates. Beach and cruise lovers are amply catered for and then there’s the rustic, quirky appeal of the aptly named, Kangaroo Island. I wouldn’t mind hopping over.

Aysén, Chile. It’s the Patagonia for isolation junkies. Another destination boasting diverse landscapes in constant flux: from fjords to rain forests, pampas to lagoons and ice fields, painted different colours and characteristics by whichever weather patterns happen to dominate; of interest to people who want to experience places of extraordinary beauty before they disappear (with glaciers melting into the ocean at an alarming rate, who can blame them?). The region also offers a taste of offbeat-meets-cute hamlet, brimming with cultural and historical character. Travellers will be curious about the European-Mestizo melange just as much as they’ll want to experience the Chilean craft beer industry. Empanadas to close the deal.

Colombia. Having tasted it in our morning brews, we’ll apparently be far more interested in going straight to the source this year.

Colombian coffee culture takes it a few beans further than having a cuppa’ mocha whatever in a trendy coffee shop, with travellers keen to experience harvesting and tasting in among plantations and typical colonial Latino architecture for extra flavour.

Taranaki, New Zealand. A volcanic mountain brooding silently over unrequited love, so legend goes. Folklore and titillating myths.. the stuff that piques the imagination and makes the tongue water for more intriguing round-the-fire tales of lost love in antiquity, reflect how sensitive and volatile our mother nature can be. It’s being touted an ideal destination for unusual, offbeat, almost quirky travel experiences. It’s for the traveller who likes a mixed bag of jaw-dropping fjordland scenery, eclectic museums telling stories of Maori legends and pioneers, and the most diverse natural vistas you could ever wish to shake a hiking boot at.

The forecasts indicate that travellers will be keen on extraordinary and iconic experiences, like bathing in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza up close, walking along China’s Great Wall, surfing at Australia’s Byron Bay or snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, making pizza in Italy, road-tripping on the USA’s Route 66, picnicking in the French countryside, viewing the Grand Canyon from a helicopter, ziplining in Costa Rica, tracking gorilla in the African jungle, kissing atop the Eiffel Tower..

Contiki surveyed 18 to 35 year olds for their bucket list travel experiences – the results demonstrated a fascination with sacred, hard to access far-off places with deep cultural significance and historic or spiritual roots.

There’s growing interest in food tourism, both for the tasting and cooking of it, in urban mythology and literature, in the pageantry of local festivals; and there’s an apparent urgency to experience things or places at risk of disappearing forever.

French Polynesia. The Tuamotos are a natural palette of turquoise, lapis lazuli, coral, and coconut trees. It’s a tropical paradise for pretend castaways, one of the new destinations that will appeal to travellers desiring an off-the-beaten-track experience, apart from the crowded tried and tested holiday escapes. They’ll be charmed by the simple pleasures and quaintness of village life, humbled by the efforts toward sustainable tourism, rejuvenated by the fresh air. Live-aboard dive boating holds a bit of adventurous appeal.

Essentially it seems that remote areas will be in great demand and they’re more accessible now (people will want to go to these kinds of far-flung places precisely because they can). And destinations previously considered offbeat will take preference over the better-known holiday spots.

For example, if you sell Malaysia as well as Thailand and Vietnam, you may find that Malaysian beaches will earn their fair share of the spoils and comfortably rival those of the latter traditional favourites. Its colonial past may also give it the edge among British, Dutch and Portuguese travellers.

Cuba and the Caribbean islands will compete well as top beach destinations with strong cultural interests. Traditional dancing, Caribbean food and jungle adventures typical of the geography all draw renewed interest among travellers, with hospitality developments rejuvenating these destinations with resort/boutique style installations to supplement area-specific activities that are usually hard to access.

The pastoral environments with fewer crowds and the propensity for slow living, places to be still and reflect, will be in greater demand this year. There’s plenty of interest for us to incorporate into our existing destinations and travel products to garner favour from our 2017 travellers.

Madagascar features prominently as yet another beach favourite with a twist: its unique selection of wildlife seen nowhere else in the world in natural habitat. Offering their iconic lemur colonies, baobab avenues, land and ocean safaris, island hops and cruises, in an environment juxtaposing world class luxury tourist facilities with basic, simple, traditional island life. It’s an idyll for travellers drawn to rural authenticity, long stretches of beaches, empty except for locals fishing for their dinner.

Sri Lanka will remain a firm favourite among sun and surf lovers with its reputation for wellness tourism. Resorts here rival the best international beach retreats with wildlife and interior natural beauty as bonus.

There’s a perceived humility and serenity among the locals that’ll appeal to travellers, whether seasoned or novice, and again there’s the perception that the region is still somewhat off the traditional radar of mass tourism.

While there’s nothing new about the fact that people want an escape from their daily routines, the trends indicate a clear inclination towards a desire to experience the exotic, whether in nature or culture, and we can surely find ways to tap into those trends and jazz up our content marketing to help us sell our existing destinations. We may even find ourselves venturing into new markets or destinations. Why not?

Travellers in general appear to have evolved in the ways they approach travel. They want to be better prepared rather than spend an entire trip relishing the element of surprise. Of course there’s still nothing better than a fortuitous stumble across some unforeseen gem of discovery while getting lost or meeting up with some locals – some of the best parts of travel are those unanticipated moments of magic.

The flipside of that is the fact that we live in the information age. There’s so much information overload and we’re spoilt for choice in new ways to consume it. The idea of selling any experience without at least providing consumers a virtual interaction with that experience is to risk becoming irrelevant, handing business over to competitors on a silver platter. And the thing we’ve already identified as having the power to either sell or repel travel, is relevant content.

However you choose to travel, wherever you’d like to travel, one thing that joins us in our cause is the desire to see ourselves virtually experiencing what we dream of.. in pictures, video and in the itineraries created for us, enjoying our preferred accommodation, activities we imagine doing, culinary experiences, and so on.

2016 was labelled the year of experiential travel and travellers are still riding that wave. What strikes me about the destination forecasts for 2017, is what can be read between the lines and how travel experts can tap into that which inspires these choices. The how entails a conceptual shift as well as a practical adjustment to our product development. Time to take another, closer look at the content you’re using to sell your experiences and think about how to make your destinations more appealing as you compete for your share of the business. Looking forward to seeing your work! OP

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