Get ahead of the game with what’s hot in 2017, writes Katie McGonagle
Looking back at this time last year, who could have predicted how many surprises we had in store?
It’s been the year of Trump’s triumph, of divisive debates over Brexit, of earthquakes in Italy and Ecuador, terrorist attacks in Brussels and Istanbul, and more celebrity deaths than anyone would care to remember.
But before we go getting all ‘annus horribilis’ about 2016, there have been plenty of lighter moments too: seeing Team GB come back from Rio with a clutch of medals; milestones as diverse as Shakespeare’s 400th birthday and the centenary of the US National Park Service; and a country united in watching Tim Peake spend six months in space and seeing a Brit top the world tennis rankings.
So it’s clear there’s no way of knowing the ups and downs of the year to come – but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to predict what will sell well in 2017.
Our rundown of the destinations to watch out for will not only help you brush up on any gaps in your knowledge but will also give you ideas for where to send those clients who look to you for inspiration.
There’s nothing like a new flight to put a country in the spotlight, and if Peru and Costa Rica – both have attracted unprecedented attention since British Airways added direct services from London – are anything to go by, Santiago should brace itself for an influx of Brits.
Starting on January 3, the 14-hour, 40-minute journey from Heathrow will become BA’s longest direct service, and with a scenic flight route skimming over the snow-topped peaks of the Andes on its approach, visits are bound to get off to a good start.
Take some time to enjoy sophisticated Santiago, then escape the city in favour of the epic scenery for which Chile is famous. Head north for the expanse of the Atacama Desert, or south to the glacier-filled landscapes of Patagonia. Cox & Kings is making the most of the direct flight with a new Wonders of Chile & Argentina trip for 2017, starting its 12-day tour of the two countries in Santiago.
Japan has rather hogged the East Asian limelight of late, becoming the rising star of the region thanks to favourable exchange rates, enhanced airlift from the UK and a constant stream of new product. Yet there’s another reason to cast your eyes eastwards: South Korea has been steadily nurturing a reputation as Asia’s must-see spot, whether on a multi-centre itinerary – Japan, China and South Korea linked up this year to form the Visit East Asia partnership – or as a destination in its own right.
There’s investment in the lead-up to the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, plus the opening next year of the Seoul Skygarden, a bypass-turned-half-mile stretch of garden bringing together cafes, shops and arts venues. Yet the new-found enthusiasm for Korean food – the up-and-coming cuisine on the UK restaurant scene – must surely take some credit, prompting new tours such as Intrepid Travel’s Real Food Adventure in South Korea, which covers the basics from bibimbap to craft beer in Busan.
The temperature might be hovering around zero right now, but Iceland is hot property. It’s been a regular feature of trends forecasts over the past few years, but it seems there’s no stopping the Icelandic juggernaut as operators across the board report further hikes in demand. SuperBreak has seen a 90% jump in interest, and even regional specialist Taber Holidays – rebranding as Scandinavia Only from January – says forward bookings have more than doubled year on year.
Airlift is a key factor, with several new flights – many tapping into Reykjavik’s growing reputation as a stopover spot en route to the US and Canada – including Icelandair’s new Belfast City service starting in June.
Yet that’s not the only reason for its popularity. Jos Dewing, managing director of Voyages to Antiquity, says: “Our no-fly cruises are performing exceptionally well for 2017. The new ex-UK cruises to Iceland are fully booked, with sailings around the Outer Hebrides also proving extremely popular.”
Spain? On a list of hot new destinations? It’s not exactly a newcomer to the British market, but as political unrest and terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world drive tourists back to familiar spots, old favourites like Spain are seeing a spike in visitor numbers.
The Spanish mainland and islands made up eight of On the Beach’s 10 most popular winter-sun destinations this year, with bookings for the Canary Islands rising by 6%, led by Tenerife. That’s hardly surprising, since British arrivals to Tenerife were already 20% up between January and September, and are set to surpass the two million mark for the first time this year.
And it’s not just about the beach. Monarch reports more younger customers booking weekend breaks to Barcelona and Madrid, while lesser known cities are coming to the fore, including Girona, which will be served next summer by 11 new Ryanair and Jet2. com routes from the UK.
This might seem another surprising entry, but it shouldn’t be. The ‘staycation’ rose to prominence in
the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, as everyone tightened their belts.
Now, amid Brexit and the falling value of the pound, it’s time to remind ourselves how much holidaying at home has to offer.
Cosmos Tours has added UK short breaks for the first time, including events such as the Edinburgh Festival and Chelsea Flower Show, while Newmarket Holidays has seen higher-than-ever advance sales of its Wimbledon packages. Special-interest breaks are also gaining momentum, with specialist rail operators such as Great Rail Journeys and Diamond Rail Holidays expanding their UK portfolios next year.
And it’s worth remembering the variety of breaks at home, from the Highlands of Scotland to the sunny shores of the Channel Islands, which Premier Holidays tips for success next year. Short-haul product manager Beverley Scarr says: “A new Cardiff to Guernsey service for summer 2017 has just been launched by Blue Islands, Flybe’s new franchise partner. We’ve already seen a surge of interest from clients to the Channel Islands for next year. Jersey and Guernsey have a continental feel but, as they’re part of the UK and use sterling, people don’t have to worry about falling exchanges rates.”
If 2016 has been the year of US national parks, then 2017 is Canada’s turn as its national parks open their gates for free to mark the 150th anniversary of the country’s foundation.
There’s plenty to look forward to this year as capital Ottawa holds a series of sesquicentennial celebrations, Montreal marks another key milestone with its 375th birthday, and Toronto gets ready to host the high-profile Invictus Games in September.
This comes hot on the heels of a strong year for Canada, with a 14% rise in UK arrivals between January and August, further buoyed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal visit in September. TrekAmerica has seen a 27% increase in passenger numbers, while sister brand Grand American Adventures has added departure dates on popular tours such as Best of the Rockies and Canadian Park Trails.
“There’s no stopping Croatia,” says Andrew Brown of Post Office Travel Money. “Its currency, the kuna, is now at its highest position, seventh, in our list of bestselling currencies after another growth year in which sales rose 12%. With such strong appeal, we expect Croatia to be a top hotspot for 2017.”
Money certainly talks when it comes to getting the real story of which destinations are doing well, and with sales of the kuna more than trebling over the past decade, there’s no denying Croatia’s inexorable growth. Its appeal ranges from classics like cruising the Adriatic coast or spending a weekend in Dubrovnik, to rising city break stars such as Zagreb or Pula, which welcomes new BA and Jet2.com flights next year.
It’s not just the bargain end of the market either. Vanessa Dean of luxury operator Carrier says: “Croatia and Montenegro continue to grow in popularity. Carrier’s business is currently 80% up year on year, and this looks set to continue in 2017. Luxury hotel chains are taking note, and One&Only Portonovi has plans to open soon.”
Currency is also key to the ongoing appeal of South Africa, where the pound-to-rand exchange rate is still very much in Brits’ favour. Gordon McCreadie, sales and marketing director at Gold Medal and Travel 2, says: “Price-wise, the destination to watch for next year is South Africa as it continues to offer the best value for money anywhere in the world, and bookings here are up year on year. A five-course tasting menu for two with wine in a five-star restaurant in South Africa can cost as little as £70.”
Cape Town, which made Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 cities for 2017, has gained flight capacity with Thomas Cook’s launch of a seasonal service this month, making the destination an option for city breaks or as a gateway to the rest of the country.
Few countries are as photogenic as India, so it’s little wonder that rises in its fortunes are often attributed to the success of the latest blockbuster filmed there, from Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to this year’s hit, The Jungle Book.
Whether the wave of new product added in 2016 – from escorted journeys to luxury train tours and tailor-made trips – was actually sparked by the film is up for debate, but it has certainly helped lay the groundwork for another strong year in 2017, when India will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its independence from the British Empire with a series of cultural events marking the ties between the countries.
Wendy Wu Tours has boosted its India programme with three new tours, including the epic 22-day Enticing India and 23 day Trans-Himalayan Journey; Newmarket Holidays has grown to five Indian itineraries; and 18 35s specialist Contiki will return for the first time in 40 years with its 12-day Eternal India trip. Cox & Kings has also seen such strong forward bookings that India group tours account for two of the spots on its list of top-10 bestsellers.
India is not the only one with a big anniversary next year: 2017 marks a century since the Russian Revolution, and the stream of new tours themed around it suggest operators are expecting a spike in interest.
APT’s premium river cruises to Russia have already sold out – though agents can pre-register clients for 2018 to avoid missing out again – while Uniworld is tipping its Imperial Waterways of Russia cruise to be especially popular when departures begin in May.
Back on land, Kirker Holidays has added a seven-night escorted tour, The Romanovs & Revolution – the Centenary of the October Revolution, which will bring guests to St Petersburg for the anniversary of the very day the revolution kicked off, on November 7.
Regent Holidays is also topping up its programme with its new nine-day Russian Revolution group tour taking travellers through the life of Vladimir Lenin, from his university in Kazan and house museum in Ulyanovsk, to the former Bolshevik Party headquarters in St Petersburg and his mausoleum in Moscow.
It’s been rising up the ranks among adventure operators, but Iran’s must-see status was sealed with BA’s direct service to Tehran, which began in September. G Adventures’ sales have doubled this year, Cox & Kings has seen good forward bookings and Regent Holidays is venturing farther afield with its 14-day Highlights of Northern Iran tour.
Brits are used to the cold at home, but it seems we don’t mind it on holiday either, with growing demand for Greenland. Hurtigruten, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and Holland America Line have added adventurous excursions, while G Adventures sails the fjords and goes whalewatching on its Arctic Highlights itinerary.
After easing its visa requirements for UK citizens – now a much easier $50 fee on arrival – Explore predicts a surge in demand for Silk Road itineraries visiting cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. Saga has also added a tour to nearby Kazakhstan and Krygyzstan, Where Steppe and Mountain Meet.
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