Down Under dreams of a white Christmas

THINKING through the logistics of hosting and accommodating 11 people for Christmas this year, it’s easy to understand why many others are planning an escape.

Whether it’s the lure of a white Christmas, the desire to avoid family dramas or simply a convenient time to take a holiday, growing numbers of Australians are taking off for the festive season.

Hotels all over the world are offering Christmas packages with  feasts and other  celebrations included and in many cases families are making multi-generational bookings for get-togethers away from home.

Holiday houses in favourite spots such as Palm Beach and Byron Bay are still popular but there is also plenty of demand for unusual Christmases, which can range from shopping in Tokyo to windsurfing in Morocco.

A spokeswoman for Intrepid Travel, Meg Koffel, says two key markets for Christmas travel are young professionals and multi-generational families. Hot spots for family Christmases are Borneo, Vietnam and other parts of Asia.

Young professionals, who are often taking advantage of a quiet time at work, are heading to places such as South America, Cuba, India and Vietnam.

These travellers will often fly out just before Christmas and plan to be somewhere interesting, such as Rio de Janeiro, to celebrate New Year’s Eve, Koffel says.

A spokesman for STA Travel, Reuben Acciano, says young people often think nothing of being away for Christmas.

‘‘Gen Y, or whatever you want to call them, are less disposed to doing anything in the traditional way and technology makes it easier for them to stay in touch,’’ he says.

‘‘With Skype or FaceTime, they can talk in real time to their family [on Christmas Day].’’Acciano says many young people still live at home, so being surrounded by family for Christmas is not so important.

It also helps that the Christmas break coincides with  school and university holidays in Australia.

A market that has gone from strength to strength over the past few years is for white-Christmas trips in the northern hemisphere.

Bentours, which specialises in travel to Scandinavia, says its Christmas in Lapland tour is one of its biggest sellers.

The five-day package to ‘‘the home of Santa Claus’’ (according to some theories) in Finland includes Christmas dinners, reindeer sleigh rides and a visit to Santa’s Village, with optional extras such as a moonlight snowmobile safari.

A new option next year will be a five-day package to Iceland, taking in the northern lights and Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull.

Tempo Holidays says its most popular Christmas tours are those taking in well-known  yuletide  markets in Europe, particularly in the German state of Bavaria.

Product manager Rad Rusin says the market experience includes traditional German food, mulled wine and buying handmade gifts.

The company’s  seven-day Bavarian Christmas Fantasy tour is popular with those who don’t like changing hotels, as they can stay in Munich and do day trips to markets and other sights around the picturesque region, Rusin says.

Also selling white-Christmas experiences without the hassle of changing hotels are European river cruise operators, which offer market visits and snow-covered scenery as part of Christmas itineraries.

Scenic Tours has three Christmas cruises in Europe this year, including a 15-day   trip that  takes in famous  cities such as Nuremberg and Vienna.

Albatross Tours, which has been a pioneer in bringing winter Christmas tours to the Australian market, introduced two new European  trips this year.

And the company plans  to add another two next year, taking the total to 19.

‘‘We’re doing really well with our Christmas trips,’’ says the managing director, Euan Landsborough.

‘‘Last year was a record year by far and we’ve just pipped it.’’

Landsborough says an emerging demographic for Albatross is ‘‘people about to become empty-nesters’’, having one last family holiday with their teenage or young-adult children.

The company also sees plenty of families with young children, attracted to the idea of Christmas in the snow.

Landsborough says one of Albatross’s new Christmas tours for  next year  starts  in Paris and  features five nights in a chateau in the Alsace region of France.

Along with the chateau stay, a highlight will be the  festive  lights and shopping in Paris in the lead-up to Christmas.

Alternative plans

Christmas is the time that inspires people to booktrips for the next festive season, according to Euan Landsborough of Albatross Travel.

Landsborough believes many people find that Christmas turns into a chore and start thinking about an alternative for the following year.

Inquiries start coming in straight after Christmas and there is a great deal of pent-up demand by the time brochures are released a few months later, he says.
However, operators also report growing numbers of last-minute bookings, with some people making a decision just weeks out from Christmas.