Sri Lanka has allure, as does the more unfamiliar Uzbekistan. And a gluten-free eating experience, bikes and bucket lists will also encourage us to pack our bags, writes Julietta Jameson.
Whether following the lights of the aurora borealis, or following the lights-camera-action of hit TV show locations, the year ahead in travel will see Australians traversing the globe on increasingly unique quests. The drop of the Aussie dollar against the United States currency will have an impact, while the centenary of Gallipoli will galvanise our resolve to pay our respects. We'll go to new places, take different routes to get there. We'll engage, exercise, explore and eat – gluten free. And we'll seek to connect more, both to people and place.
In a world of increasing travel possibilities and opportunities, here are 15 of the top trends in tourism for 2015.
1 Value for money
As the Australian dollar looks set to continue to fall against the US, travel experts say Australians will look for value. Europe will be in demand with the currency relatively stable against the euro. But value hunters will go to Asia, not just reliably cheap and cheery Vietnam and Thailand but also to Sri Lanka.
Says Fiona Hunt, managing director, Adventure World, "Australian visitor statistics to the vibrant, compact island of Sri Lanka, are steadily on the increase."
Another destination of perceived value is Japan. " … due to favourable exchange rates, but also the safety, cleanliness, appealing cultural attractions and attractive fares from low cost carriers," says Active Travel's Robert Fletcher.
2 Places you've never heard/thought of before
Central Asia leads the way in a move off the beaten track. World Expeditions notes new demand for Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in various combinations, as well as Tibet, Bhutan and Ladakh – and the more mysterious side of India. Says Active Travel's Robert Fletcher: "Destinations people will ask about in 2015 include Mongolia, Ethiopia, wildlife parks in India, sailing in West Papua, surfing in the Marshall Islands and Amazon cruising."
Even luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent is seeing the trend. For 2015, it's developed new itineraries into Mongolia, Africa's Skeleton Coast, the Northwest Passage, Madagascar and Costa Rica, among others.
3 The new Las Vegas
Greater Palm Springs in California is the new alternative to Vegas for partying without the gambling and tack. The 1950s enclave is a hot spot for internationally renowned events including Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival and Palm Springs International Film Festival as well as Splash House, the new kid on the block, a progressive pool party featuring the world's best electronic music artists. Next year will see new hotels and further redevelopment downtown. See visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.
4 Alternative routes to Europe
While Heathrow is the traditional Australian entry point to Europe, the proliferation of flights into other European airports thanks to Qantas' alliance with Emirates and additional airlines adding new routes means alternatives aplenty. "Australians finding new and better entry and exit points that are more efficient and save them money," says Skidoo's Mirza Juddani. This means more use of Frankfurt for Eastern Europe, Zurich for Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Paris and Manchester as gateways to England.
5 Alternative routes to the US
Despite the dollar's dip, the US government projects Australian arrivals will rise 25 per cent by 2019. Cathay Pacific notes Australians are looking beyond the traditional routes via the Pacific to get to the US, particularly if they are travelling to the eastern states like New York and Chicago. It's possible to avoid LAX and cut down US domestic services and the inherent exposure to often onerous security measures. The number of Cathay passengers travelling from Australia to North American ports has doubled in the past 12 months. The airline expects the demand to continue to grow and will schedule four weekly flights from Hong Kong to Boston from May, 2015. See Cathaypacific.com/au.
6 High-tech on the high seas
Most cruise passengers will tell you – the biggest downside of being at sea is lack of good internet. That's set to change with Royal Caribbean leading the way. Expect others to seriously start considering their tech as a result of RC's latest ship, the spectacular mega-cruiser Quantum of the Seas, operating with unprecedented bandwidth thanks to dedicated satellites launched by tech partner O3b Networks. Royal Caribbean claims Quantum of the Seas has more bandwidth than all other cruise ships combined. With speeds that match fast broadband connections onshore, guests can be online with all their devices, even streaming video and uploading images to social media.
7 Multi-generational travel
Family travel has been a strong trend for the past few years. Cashed-up baby boomers celebrating a big birthday or who are keen to spend quality time with the offspring and holiday with the grandkids might foot the bill – it's a common scenario in cruising, particularly. Abercrombie & Kent has noticed bookings for family trips have risen in recent years and expects the trend to continue in 2015. It now offers luxury small group journeys for families.
Others are adjusting to the demand. For instance, the cottages at New Zealand's renowned luxury lodges The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay, The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in the Bay of Islands and Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown are increasingly popular for family getaways, especially to celebrate significant milestones.
8 Bicycle, bicycle
Demand for multi-activity adventures and cycling holidays is on the up. Tasmania will continue to figure in the plans of hardy types who may love World Expeditions' 2015 Cycle Kayak Walk Northern Tasmania, which contains exactly what's on the packet. Kakadu in the Northern Territory, particularly "Kakadu away from the crowds" offerings are top sellers for World Expeditions.
New Zealand will continue to be the region's most popular place for adventure and extreme cycling holidays, while active retirees will look to France and Spain for cycling and walking vacations – the attraction of the Camino de Santiago shows no signs of abating.
9 Authenticity and engagement
From cruise passengers to honeymooners, real connection to place and people continues to be a strengthening travel goal. P&O notes Papua New Guinea as an increasingly popular cruise destination. New ports for next year include Madang, home to the Goroka mud men.
Even Tahiti, known for its schmick resorts and distilled "paradise" experience is winding back the clock to provide connection. More visitors taking up the option of staying in pensions, or guest houses, for a local, connected experience.
10 Exotic Australia
Whenever the dollar dips, the winner is Australian tourism and Australians and internationals alike are looking deeper into the catalogue of unique Aussie experiences. APT has increased its Kimberley coast offering by 400 percent for 2015, for the first time bringing its own ship, the MS Caledonian Sky, to Kimberley waters to cater to demand.
Meanwhile, wotif.com notes emerging wine regions such as Tasmania will be popular destinations for the surging interest in Australian food and wine trips. And at Uluru, the completion of Longitude 131's refurb will appeal to those wanting to spend their dollars on unique local luxury.
During the Centenary of Gallipoli, Turkey will continue to be one of the most in-demand travel destinations for Australians. Tour companies such as Trafalgar will have extra departures visiting places of significance. Others are doing the same. Cruise Express's Legends of the Mediterranean package will cruise the waters off the Turkish coast at dawn on April 25 and the official dawn service ashore will be broadcast on board.
12 Towards the light
Australians are acting in droves on a classic bucket list item – a quest to see the Northern Lights. Says Joost Timmer, Insight Vacations Australia Managing Director says, "This is set to increase in 2015 with Visit Norway recently reporting that tourism to the country has soared with fans of the popular Disney film Frozen eager to see first-hand the spectacular scenery and fiords that inspired the landscapes for the movie." Insight Vacations, Bentours and Tempo Holidays also have increased offerings in the region.
The Yukon Territory in Canada's north west is also fast becoming a new hot spot for Australian travellers – last year we took over the United Kingdom to become the second largest market for the area. Apart from the fact of it teeming with wildlife, and the massive territory remaining largely untouched by human development, the Canadians reckon the Yukon is the best place in the world to view the spectacular aurora borealis.
13 Game of Thrones
With season five of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones to air in 2015, tourism to the various locations in which it is shot is set to boom. Says James Gaskell, Managing Director, Creative Holidays, "According to international visitation figures, Ireland had more than 20 per cent more Australians visit last year and is on track for another year of double digit growth from this market." GOT is shot in Northern Ireland, and themed touring is growing apace. Series five of GOT will add Spain to the list of other countries benefiting from its fandom, Croatia, Malta and Morocco.
14 Special diet
You only have to look on the supermarket shelves to see that gluten-free eating is more than a fad. And the world of hospitality is responding. Melbourne's Windsor Hotel introduced GF options seven years ago, but now does up to 40 such afternoon teas a week. Windsor Hotel CEO David Perry says the growth has been "astonishing".
Gluten free has now even the home of the world's best pastry, Paris, where specialty gluten-free cafes Helmut Newcake and NoGlu are doing a roaring trade.
15 Not just the Danube
River and boutique small ship cruising is a trend unabated but in 2015, it's evolving. APT is cruising the New England Islands for the first time and the Lower Ganges into the rarely travelled West Bengal. Myanmar will see cruising action on the fabled Irrawaddy. But others, like Abercrombie & Kent are looking further afield in the developing destination, taking to the Chindwin River and cruising through jungle towards the Indian border.
See abercrombiekent.com.au; activetravel.com.au; adventureworld.com.au; apttouring.com; baillielodges.com.au; capekidnappers.com; cruiseexpress.com.au; discovernorthernireland.com; english.tahiti-pensions.com/en/concept; helmutnewcake.com; insightvacations.com; noglu.fr; kauricliffs.com; matakaurilodge.com; royalcaribbean.com.au; skiddoo.com.au; thehotelwindsor.com.au; trafalgar.com; travelyukon.com; visitnorway.com; worldexpeditions.com/au; wotif.com.