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View Future destinations: Nine travel hotspots to watch in a larger map
Go back a decade, or even two: you will see that the travel habits of the British have changed, not least that we are now far more likely to go independent.
But the destinations we concentrate upon have barely changed. The ‘PIGS’ – Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece – continue to lure many millions of us every year, as do France and Florida, Turkey and Dubai.
So the task of predicting the places that will rise from obscurity to become ‘premier league’ destinations is fraught with problems. But having been in this game for far too long, I can at least describe the sets of circumstances that lead to ‘new’ places appearing on the mental maps of the travel industry – and its customers.
The first is: recovery from conflict. I bet if you asked the average person in the street when the Vietnam War ended, few of them would realise it was half a lifetime ago, in 1975.
Some places mend faster: this summer, Croatia will get close to the same number of Brits – about one million – who visited before the civil war in Yugoslavia.
Colombia and Mozambique fit into this category, as does Zimbabwe, whose huge potential will surely be realised when the vile Robert Mugabe finally loses his tyrannical grip on the country.
Next, some destinations have simply been overlooked and undervisited. Often this is because governments have lacked interest in promoting tourism or attracting visitors, and have imposed complex and expensive visa rules. Russia, Libya and Albania are gradually opening up.
The final category comprises places that technology is bringing into orbit. The Costa del Sol had to wait for a generation of aircraft capable of getting to Malaga from Gatwick in one hop.
The Boeing 787 – the ‘Dreamliner’ – is the first true 21st-century airliner. When it finally starts operating, the new jet’s long range, low operating costs and high standards of passenger comfort will transform our sense of geography.
The Far East will not seem so far when flying non-stop from London to Bali is a possibility, Chile could find itself a winter-sun destination on a par with South Africa, and ‘niche’ destinations such as Puerto Rico will be able to be served frequently and cheaply from the UK.
Certainties are few and far between in travel, but I confidently predict that the next decade will see the travel industry innovating to extend still further the horizons of the holidaymakers in the future.
Here’s my pick of the destinations that will come on stream in the future. See you there…
Europe has long regarded Albania as its comedy country. During Communism, this Norman Wisdom-loving nation was even more extreme than the rest of the Iron Curtain awkward squad – Stalin was revered long after he’d been identified as a rogue elsewhere in the world.
Since free enterprise took over, the emphasis has been on getting rich quick. But after a Coke-fuelled adolescence, this beautiful Wales-sized slab on the Adriatic coast has matured.
The beaches are as alluring as those north in Montenegro and south in Greece, while capital city Tirana will be able to cope with becoming the latest casualty of the UK’s stag night carpet-bombing.
What will you be doing on July 11 2010? Quite possibly enjoying the sun (it’s a Friday, so hopefully you might get out of the office early). But about 7,500 miles away they’ll be enjoying the absence of the sun.
Next year’s total solar eclipse, which will sweep across Easter Island in the South Pacific, will help to put Chile – which counts it as part of its territory – on the map. As will the Boeing 787, which is likely to enable the restoration of direct links between Gatwick and Chile’s capital, Santiago – only this time non-stop.
Chile has much to adore besides its fascinating offshore fragment. Santiago is as safe as it is vibrant, and the long, thin country of Chile has an extraordinary appeal from desert in the north to sub-Antarctic wastes in the south. Oh, and the beaches and wine aren’t at all bad. In barely half a day from the UK, you could be there.
Cocaine and civil war have tarnished the reputation of South America’s northernmost country for decades. An ill-conceived attempt to lure British holidaymakers to the Colombian island of San Andrés 15 years ago rebounded amid acrimony and lawsuits.
But when the realisation finally dawns that this warm, welcoming country has much to offer, it will find its rightful place alongside Mexico as part of the fabulous Hispanic Caribbean.
Cartagena will evolve as the ‘new Havana’, with the same exquisite Spanish colonial ambience – and with superb beaches close to hand. And the terrain will appeal to adventure seekers and lakes-and-mountains tourists alike.
Go on, name the biggest countries in the world in terms of population. China, India and the US should trip off the tongue of a travel professional with ease as first, second and third. But who comes next?
Ladies and gentlemen, with 240 million people (and counting), this archipelago of 17,508 islands is fourth most populous on the planet. Indonesia is also well provided with tourist draws, from the sultry island of Sumatra in the west to the jungly, jumbly frontier of Papua New Guinea in the east, barely 100 miles from Australian territory.
The jewel more or less in the middle of this complex crown is Bali, scene of recent tragedy yet also the one island in Indonesia where the most exacting demands of 21st century tourists are met.
When the Boeing 787 makes Denpasar airport a single hop from Gatwick or Manchester, Bali will be on a par with other troubled yet hypnotic gems such as Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Pinched between the very popular destinations of Tunisia and Egypt, Libya is different. No guesses why: any nation whose name begins “the Great Socialist People’s …” is unlikely to be a laugh a minute, especially when run by Colonel Gaddafi.
Sure, it shares with Alaska both its size and the fact that very few people would want to explore very much of it; but what it has that America’s biggest state does not is a seductive Mediterranean coastline flanked by some of the finest Classical sites in existence – notably Leptis Magna.
The one obstacle to be overcome, which may depend on a change in management, is the comprehensive and assiduously enforced ban on alcohol. It could be a while before Dubai feels threatened as a tourist draw by Libya.
South Africans know the secret: the vast nation (six times the size of the UK) that flops down the coast between Tanzania and Swaziland is full of intrigue. Mozambique also has a Portuguese heritage that – as with Goa in India, and Macau in China – confers an extra degree of interest.
Most travellers, though, will be attracted by the shoreline, and in particular the resorts in the south of the country. And if customers are concerned about the problem of communication, remind them that this is the country that, despite its colonial past, applied to become a member of the British Commonwealth in the 1990s.
If you have been loitering around in the tourism hinterland for long enough, you will know that the British travel industry has previously flirted with holidays in Puerto Rico.
They have always failed to gain a solid foothold, and the same applies to scheduled air links. So what’s different now? Partly the opening up of Cuba to the American people, which means that smaller islands will seek international markets to fill the vacuum. And also the economics of the Boeing 787 and other new-generation aircraft, which make ‘long, thin’ routes feasible.
The visitor to Puerto Rico need not stray far before finding lovely beaches, a fascinating interior and fine colonial relics. Enough of it is reassuringly familiar to anyone who has ever visited the US, yet there is sufficient that is different to provide a fascinating new dimension to Caribbean holidays.
The world’s biggest country has shown extraordinary disdain for tourism: since the collapse of its Soviet empire, Russia has actually made it more expensive and complicated to enjoy even a brief weekend in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, St Petersburg.
I believe a new version of ‘glasnost’ – openness – fuelled by the economic crisis will change the Kremlin’s attitude. Travellers will discover there is far more to the country than vodka, onion-domed churches and the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Winter sports enthusiasts will want to check out Sochi – venue for the Winter Olympics in 2014 – while the nearby Black Sea beaches will give Bulgaria and Turkey a run for the British traveller’s money.
The last resort of a tyrant will soon become the first resort of travellers seeking a warm, welcoming African destination with astounding natural beauty.
Robert Mugabe has (literally) presided over the destruction of Southern Africa’s greatest hope, but when he has gone the nation will rise again. The remarkably resilient people will be eager to welcome back holidaymakers who have felt repulsed by the regime.
But has his rule tarnished Zimbabwe’s appeal? Not permanently. Besides, it has spectacular national parks, Lake Kariba and the remarkable structure of the Great Zimbabwe and, of course, ‘The Smoke that Thunders’: the Victoria Falls.
Editor’s note: Read our recent features on the future of Zimbabwe tourism
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