After a rocky two years, touring is back and on the rise. From the hard-to-reach destinations that are having their moment to travelling with the whole troupe, here are the five breakout trends and who is doing them best.
Tours that break new ground
Along with an uptick in travellers revisiting the classic destinations – according to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical office, as early as 2021, countries such as Greece and Spain saw a boost of more than 70 per cent in the number of nights spent at tourist accommodation – people are also seeking out places that have been hard to reach or off the table entirely. In the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, a 500-year-old pilgrim route has opened to outsiders for the first time. The 400-kilometre-long Trans Bhutan Trail was once the sole route connecting the country’s various fortress dzongs, the centres of political and religious power. The trail fell into disuse when the national highway opened in the 1960s – and foreigners weren’t permitted into the erstwhile hermit kingdom until 1974 – so its revival opens up a part of the world not previously accessible. G Adventures has launched two guided tours of the trail, which was once used by pilgrims, royals and official envoys or garps, who ran messages between provinces. “We wanted to positively impact as many rural locations on the trail as possible so we could provide economic opportunities to local people,” says G Adventures’ Yves Marceau. Both tours include hikes to lofty Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) monastery.
Closer to home, the 200-plus idyllic islands of the Torres Strait have long been tricky to explore – until now. Just-launched tours from Cairns capture the ailan kastom culture of the Torres Strait on day or multiday trips to the tip of Australia with Strait Experience. On a day trip it’s possible to pack in a tour of the World War II history of Ngurupai (Horn) Island and spend several languid hours on Waiben (Thursday) Island feasting on island cuisine – including the piquant cured-fish dish namas – and enjoying a performance of traditional dance at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre. On multi-day itineraries there’s the option of a helicopter flight across the archipelago to the continent’s northernmost point, a visit to a Friday Island pearl farm with a sashimi lunch, and expeditions to outer islands such as the coral cay of Masig (Yorke) Island. “We’re telling our stories to the world, sharing our rich culture,” says Strait Experience co-founder Fraser Nai.
It’s no longer enough to say that you’ve been there, done that. Now, travellers want to get under the skin of a destination. According to the 2022 Global Travel Trends Report by American Express, 81 per cent of respondents said they want to visit destinations where they can immerse themselves in the local culture.
Trafalgar was one of the early tour operators to realise that travellers crave more than ticking off sites. It pioneered deeper connections more than a decade ago by taking guests inside the lives of local families to experience their culture first-hand. The company’s inaugural offering was a visit to the Esposito family farm in Sorrento, Italy, for homemade pasta, limoncello and real interactions with real people.
On Be My Guest options across Italy, Trafalgar guests can, for example, dine with a count at his 15th-century olive oil estate or learn the ancient art of making balsamic vinegar, as well as taste lambrusco, prosciutto and parmigiano in EmiliaRomagna. Chef Giada Landi, whose family has lived in and farmed from their Tuscan villa for 300 years, says, “Since Trafalgar has been coming here it has changed our life. It’s really helped us to save this place and also share our history.”
In India, Banyan Tours has all the right connections to ensure a visit to the Subcontinent is as enlightening as you could wish for. Banyan can arrange access to the magnificent sandstone palace of the Amber Fort near Jaipur before it opens to the crowds, as well as to the majestic city palaces of Jaipur and Udaipur and Jodhpur’s imposing Mehrangarh Fort. In Delhi, you can experience a private Sufi performance, the meditative dance of the city’s mystic Muslim sect, in a small tomb in the Nizamuddin area, or a private tour of Humayun’s Tomb – the inspiration for the Taj Mahal – led by writer and historian William Dalrymple. And while it can’t wrangle exclusive entry to the Taj Mahal, Banyan can arrange for Giles Tillotson, author of one of the definitive books on the love monument, to give you a tour.
On this topic, it’s almost unanimous: according to a recent survey by Expedia, a massive 90 per cent of people look for sustainable options when they travel. Whether we’re visiting fragile communities or threatened ecosystems, we want to leave the smallest footprint possible.
If the Amazon is on your wish list, it’s reassuring to know that your actions can help support the health of the region. Cultural adventure specialists World Expeditions offsets carbon emissions on all its tours. “We’re confident that people booking with us will approve of the fact that their trip will have a positive impact,” says the company’s responsible travel manager, Donna Lawrence. If, for example, you’re in Peru and about to spend four days trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you can gratefully accept the fact that you’re accompanied by cooks, porters and camp staff because your entire entourage’s carbon footprint is being offset. World Expeditions’ 16-day Best of Peru trip also explores the Sacred Valley, Lake Titicaca and the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, as well as spending two nights in the Amazon jungle, where naturalists lead captivating treks into the world’s largest rainforest.
Prefer to criss-cross Europe? You can shun cars and trains on Ride & Seek’s epic trans-European odyssey; participants travel from Barcelona to Rome using pedal power. The full route traverses 2700 kilometres, though riders can opt to do only one leg – either Barcelona to Alba or Alba to Rome. You’ll cover an average of 100 kilometres per day and be rewarded with Michelin-starred restaurants and stays at an 11th-century castle and a historic palazzo in Reggio Emilia. There’s also expert commentary from historical fiction writer Ben Kane, author of Hannibal, and former SBS cycling commentator Mike Tomalaris, who’ll be along for part of the ride in 2023. The scenery’s quite something, too. “Cycling the Chianti Way in Tuscany is always stunning and riding alongside the Tiber on a bike path all the way into the centre of Rome is very cool,” says the founder of Ride & Seek, Dylan Reynolds.
Tours that maximise your time
As we emerge from years of lockdowns, “revenge travel” is in – not only are people prepared to increase the money they spend on exploring the world, they also want to get bang for their buck and their time. Got a weekend? Do something iconic. A week? Strike two things off your bucket list.
Journey Beyond is one travel company tapping into this demand, with a six-night Sail & Snorkel Ningaloo experience. The tour covers Cape Range National Park as well as the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef, which lies off the coast of Western Australia. Extending about 300 kilometres north from Carnarvon, this biodiversity hotspot is home to more than 700 fish species – including hundreds of migratory whale sharks – and is also rich in whales, turtles, dugongs and kaleidoscopic corals. Guests take in these wonders with three nights in the luxury Indian Ocean tented camp Sal Salis, followed by a scenic flight along the reef to Coral Bay. There, they board the Shore Thing, a 15.5-metre, 10-berth catamaran, for three nights and days, calling in at dive and snorkel sites, deserted beaches, kayaking reef lagoons and communing with the marine life. The epic sunsets come at no extra charge.
But what can you tick off in just two days? Turns out AAT Kings can help you dip your toe into two of our most remote regions, Kakadu and Arnhem Land. Departing from Darwin, the tour heads to Kakadu, Australia’s largest national park and homeland of the Bininj/Mungguy people for more than 60,000 years. Rock art galleries at Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) and Ubirr record their timeless existence via panels depicting Dreaming stories and natural history. Kakadu is home to one-fifth of Australia’s mammal species and a third of its birds – and a cruise around the Yellow Water billabong takes guests close to some of them, as well as massive salties. Day two is a 4WD expedition into Arnhem Land and the Country of the Yolngu people with its dramatic escarpments, lilyrich wetlands and more immortal stories in the rock art of Mikinj Valley. “It packs a lot into just two days,” says Ben Hall, CEO of AAT Kings.
Small and multigenerational tours
Family travel is another breakout in the American Express report – 79 per cent of respondents said they were most looking forward to travelling with family in 2022, while 58 per cent said they were more interested in multi-generational family trips than ever before.
Globus’s small-group “discoveries” are the right size for an extended family – or band of friends – looking to mark a significant event (20 to 24 is the average group size). Itineraries are experience-rich and cover all the big-ticket attractions – like the 10-day Discover Japan tour that visits Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama, Matsumoto, Kanazawa and the Mount Fuji region. Guests can learn calligraphy and local cooking, drop in for a drink at a sake brewery, visit traditional markets and stroll through serene gardens, sacred shrines and temples.
It’s one thing to tour the great archaeological sites of ancient Egypt but a different matter to do so with a dedicated Egyptologist on hand to lend context to every occasion. Abercrombie & Kent’s private Nile In Style tour is an expert-led, luxury escape that can be tailor-made to suit your troupe. “It’s an unforgettable way to create memories for all family members as you discover the history and culture of this fascinating country together,” says Debra Fox, A&K’s managing director of tour operations. The nine-day itinerary kicks off in Cairo to marvel at the treasures of Tutankhamen’s tomb and the Mummy Room at the Egyptian Museum and walk through the markets and mosques of Old Cairo. Fly to Luxor and board a boat – perhaps the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV with rooftop deck and pool or a dahabiya sailboat for smaller gatherings. Then sail down the Nile, with lavish catering and guided tours of royal tombs in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings and the colossal temples of Ramses II and his queen, Nefertari, at Abu Simbel.
Image credit: Ahmed Hanmza/Abercrombie & Kent (Nile in Style tour); Michael Rooney (Paro Taktsang); Jim Feng (Machu Picchu); Genevieve Vallee (Yellow Water Billabong in Kakadu National Park).