This year’s hot destinations are about more than location location location… Everywhere has its own beauty and interest, but the experiential travel trend has sunk its hooks deeply into the traveller psyche. The trick to drawing their interest in 2017 lies in understanding the level of discernment among travellers, whether they’re into luxury or budget travel. They’ll travel with their conscience this year and they’ll be emotional about the choices they make. Let’s take a trip around the world to see how your experiences stack up in the list of predicted travel trends.

Chiang Mai is my first pick of the bunch as that perfect example of one hot destination with multiple interests that’ll draw travellers this year. Thailand’s second city, it’s the more easy-going, graceful baby sister to the better known, crazy-paced Bangkok. I adore Bangkok, but Chiang Mai possesses all of the same typical Thai charm with a special reverence about its wats and night market scene. And apparently, the 2017 traveller will want something less ‘obvious’ in their Thai destination.

A stay in Chiang Mai would be best coupled with visits to the charming Old Town and the rural tea-growing outlying areas, as well as the Golden Triangle and Hill tribe experiences.

Simpler value-adds with equal impact include Thai staples like food and wellness experiences, from cookery classes to spa treatments. Once you’ve had a Thai massage, no matter where else in the world you may visit, if there’s a Thai massage on offer, you’d pay good money for it – it’s simply that good!

And who knows, perhaps your location has an excellent fusion restaurant, and you could collaborate with the chef to offer a special food experience (cooking and/or tasting) and win over the hearts and stomachs of travelling gourmands.

Consider the environmentally conscious among your guests and perhaps offer visits to the rescued elephant of Chiang Mai for a more ethical appreciation of Thailand’s national animal.

Travellers increasingly worry about the impact of tourism on destinations; so the typical elephant treks and similar interactions may be unpalatable to many. It’s advisable to get your client’s input if this kind of excursion is relevant to you, and adapt your products accordingly.

Myanmar, despite being a close neighbour to Thailand, is a barely discovered gem predicted to pique many travellers’ curiosity. It’s a canvas of pagodas and Eastern temples in forests, classic South East Asian landscapes and villages depicting a cultural charm that has so far largely escaped modernity. There’s also the novelty of visiting a country newly ‘liberated’ from a dark past, with its doors to tourism thrown wide open to a prouder present. Markets feature handmade local crafts and traditional food, there are floating islands to marvel at, and the freedom of touring by bicycle or canoe to enjoy.

Travellers will have a special empathy for destinations proven to have overcome difficulty, and will wish to support local communities.

Some will be drawn to the novelty of accessing locations apparently untouched by mass tourism. And some will enjoy the bragging rights of saying, “I went there during the infancy of its liberation..”

Also celebrating its emergence from a politically volatile past is Colombia. Any supplier based here is spoilt for choice among the diverse attractions available to add value to their travel products, with the rich colonial history, architecture, indigenous culture, and natural beauty featuring prominently. There are flower festivals, the dramatic beauty of the Caribbean coastline, the sultry climate, hedonistic playgrounds, adventure activities ranging from whitewater rafting, mountain biking and canyoning, to the more pedestrian cable car rides and trips to coffee-covered highlands.. enough to satiate any travel palate.

My personal favourite would have to be a demonstration of Colombian cumbia, followed by a quick lesson and a dance floor ready for me to twirl my skirts at. That’s a pretty big mouthful of culture sampling to supplement your offering.

Travellers continue their love affair with Africa and Ethiopia is the next big thing. Better known for famine and political instability, it remains a place of tradition and history, considered the Cradle of Humanity, also untouched by modernity. Travellers will want close-up experiences of its ancient culture, from viewing fossils to learning about the religious identity of the country, reflected in its architecture. Edifices like rock-hewn churches, obelisks, castles, monasteries, crypts, all exist gracefully alongside grottoes, majestic geological formations and a natural beauty peculiar to Ethiopia, quite different from the customary African wilderness.

You could add value to your guest’s stay by offering a cruise to the Blue Nile’s source, or an experience of Ethiopian coffee culture, or of the local cuisine. It definitely will generate a keener interest in your offering to appeal to that desire for novel experiences. Sell your accommodation, activity, tour, cruise or train journey with the predicted trends in mind and exploit the potential within your destinations to add the right kind of character to your overall offering.

Cruises will become destinations within themselves – no longer favoured only by senior citizens and honeymooners. The interest in cruising comes from the desire for luxury and the holistic travel experience (with everything included). Your activities, dining options and entertainment will need to be more varied and on-shore excursions will need to reflect high-end luxury.

Demand for themed cruises will increase, guided by pop culture trends in television, film and music, with the obligatory dramatic natural locations to view and visit.

Apart from the bread-and-butter shore sightseeing tours, it would be smart to include local food experiences or feature super trendy ‘ocean-to-plate’ events, to appeal to a growing curiosity in locally sourced, in-season foods. All those celebrity chef shows and master chef cook-off’s on TV have created an appetite for real life encounters of the same, for a change to smell and taste the works of culinary art.

The trend also applies to suppliers of static accommodation with space for organic vegetable or herb gardens, which double in aesthetic and consumption value.

Train travel will become a more popular way to enjoy parts of the vast country that is Canada, as it celebrates its 150th birthday this year. Its birthday will be marked by free national parks entry all year long and festivals in iconic cities like Toronto and Montreal. This is just the cherry on the cake though, for a destination already favoured this year for its multiculturalism, craft beer industry, stunning wilderness and the Canadian Rockies calling out to wanderlusters. There’ll be less emphasis on seasonal preference among those time-constrained travellers who book last minute trips for good deals or spontaneous travel. Culture and nature, whatever the weather, bring the train journey experience full circle.

You could be based in or near a wilderness area like Taranaki, New Zealand, another destination travellers will love this year, also favoured by solo travellers for its safety and group activities that encourage social interaction. Time to tap into their desires as well as those of adventure-seekers, and incorporate those controlled to extreme risk experiences available in your vicinity. Travellers will be after different geological experiences like volcanoes, fjords, glaciers, jungles, canyons, deserts and always, the vast blue ocean.

So all activities from diving to skiing, helicopter flipping to hot air ballooning, paragliding to spelunking, will win you brownie points. A bit of collaboration from trade partners operating activities of this sort in your vicinity will go a long way to differentiating your offering from the competition in your area.

Vast, haunting spaces in far-flung destinations like the Australian Outback and Chile’s Atacama Desert will hold great appeal for travellers wishing to escape the world and its frenetic pace. These kinds of destinations will be popular for their promise of isolation and opportunity to disconnect. If the setting happens to be uniquely beautiful and surreal, that’s a huge plus.

You could incorporate an excursion to Chile’s Moon Valley, a short drive from San Pedro, so your guests could experience its lunar landscape and stunning stargazing spectacle. Escapism and solo travel both account for travellers wanting to immerse themselves in authentic experiences conducive to self-reflection, the ability to befriend locals or fellow ‘pilgrims’, within culturally rich settings. Your hotel will have to be more than a place to sleep albeit with outstanding creature comforts to enjoy. It should, just as importantly, be the portal to a destination.

I’d call this a year for extraordinary travel experiences, when travellers will want encounters with sloth, black jaguar, Himalayan snow leopard, lemur, gorilla, chimpanzee, or any exotic wild animal for the novelty of it, or from an ecotourist sensibility, or because they fear missing out on experiencing species that are at risk of disappearing forever.

They’ll want to experience healing pilgrimages to escape the world, they’ll want to do more hiking and biking than be car-bound, they’ll want to experience cloud forests in Ecuador, the meditative isolation of Mongolia; quirky, avant garde experiences in off-beat locations. They’ll want to immerse themselves in local culture, and experience a return to the ‘basics’, a simpler, slower way of life to contrast the stressful pace of their regular routines.

While particular destinations have been named as hot must-see places, experiential travel still rules and it’s vital that you do a proper inventory of the activities you sell in conjunction with your core travel product, in order to align with the predicted 2017 travel trends. Develop those features and themes, incorporate some of those desired unique experiences into your offerings, keep the environmental impact low but retain your guest’s freedom of movement. And re-connect with your destination in a new, proactive manner – be the portal to your destination and make it hot in 2017. SUP

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