Shopping in Bangkok and eating noodles in Singapore are yesterday’s news.
As we head into the peak season for trips to the northern hemisphere, the hottest stopover destinations are in the Middle East and China, with big-name attractions, cultural bites and longer stays on the menu.
“There’s definitely been a noticeable shift in recent times,” says the managing director of Creative Holidays, James Gaskell. “A lot of people are chasing more unusual experiences on their way to Europe.”
Gaskell says the nature of stopovers has changed, from the traditional one-night “wash and brush up” in Hong Kong or Singapore to three or four days of active sightseeing and exploring in new cities.
The shift in destinations is largely due to changes in the airline scene, particularly the growth of Middle Eastern airlines Emirates and Etihad, and Qantas’s partnership with Emirates.
Increased flight options to Chinese cities have also played a role, along with the introduction of visa-free stopovers for Australian travellers to Guangzhou.
China Southern Airlines, which has been actively promoting the 72-hour visa-free option since it was introduced last August, says nearly 40 per cent of travellers who have taken it up have been from Australia and New Zealand.
The airline has worked with local tourism authorities to put together stopover packages including Cantonese food and local sights, as an alternative to our traditional Asian stopover cities.
Guangzhou might be new to many Australian travellers, but China Southern says it is now China’s third largest city for tourism, clocking up more than 50 million visitor nights last year.
The executive general manager of marketing for Flight Centre, Colin Bowman, agrees long-standing stopover destinations such as Hong Kong and Singapore have waned, with many Australians now flying to Europe via Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
Bowman says some travellers are “not particularly enamoured” with the Middle Eastern routes, which offer a very long leg out of Australia followed by a shorter leg into Europe, but many see it as an opportunity to bypass London and go straight into other European cities.
Some choose the Middle Eastern routes because they want to fly with the well-regarded Middle Eastern carriers, while others see it as an opportunity to explore somewhere new and see “two cities for the price of one”.
“People are open to these options because they’re always looking for new places to go,” Bowman says. “There are some good accommodation deals, too, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.”
Bowman says stopover travellers in the Middle East can get four or five star hotels from about $100 a night, making it an affordable add-on to their holiday plans.
James Gaskell says the average stopover in Dubai for Creative Holidays customers is four days, while a typical stopover in Abu Dhabi is two to three nights. He believes the “Dubai publicity machine” has played a big role in the Middle East’s growing popularity, along with the number of big-name attractions in the region.
Do you think the Middle East and China are the best stopover destinations? What would your stopover choice be? Post your comments below.