While many of our 2017 predictions are still going strong, we’ve been gazing into our crystal ball again in search of exciting new travel trends for next year. From a focus on learning even more about the destinations we visit, to maximising the experience of our ever-more-precious leisure time, here are the trends on our horizon for travel to Asia in 2018.
Due to its popularity, some may consider Thailand too 'obvious' or perhaps a less exciting destination than its neighbours, but those looking to escape its well-trodden roads and crowds may want to focus their interest in visiting northern Thailand, where the climate is cooler and the landscape is blanketed with lush greenery. Chiang Mai, the entry point for the region, hosts an eclectic mix of ancient stupas, hip coffee shops and bustling night markets, but there are some hidden gems just a little further off the beaten track. The seemingly-quiet town of Fang, from where you can be exploring the countryside within minutes, has a fascinating fusion of cultural influences, and a stay at the family-run Phumanee Lahu guesthouse is a must. Further north, Pai is ideally located for a spot of super-active trekking and rafting, and has a thriving bohemian art scene to immerse yourself in too.
However far we travel there is always the hunger to take it that extra step; to visit places even further off-the-beaten-track. This is easier (and more cost-effective) as part of a group rather than going solo. Increasingly, couples and individuals can secure places on tours which take just a handful of people to some otherwise pretty inaccessible destinations, and 2018 is set to see a strong increase in this small-group exploratory travel. The first Selective Asia group itinerary is a journey along the fascinating and historically-turbulent Ho Chi Minh Trail in partnership with the Mines Advisory Group, who we've been working with for many years. Check in with our Destination Specialists for more info.
The discussion about the balance between economically vital tourism and ensuring the landscape is not over-visited still rumbles on, but sustainable and environmentally-responsible travel has moved on from being a buzz-word towards becoming a number-one consideration. In Vietnam, where this is really gaining traction, an increasing amount of top-quality sustainable hotels, such as the charming Mu Cang Chai Ecolodge, are open for business and thriving. This doesn’t mean giving up the luxury either - Lak Tented Camp is a high-end eco-glamping experience with plenty of chic right on the shores of the stunning Lak lake.
In line with the recent shift towards businesses suggesting that well-used annual leave actively boosts employee productivity, 2018 is likely to continue the trend for holidays in Asia which enhance personal health and well-being. As well as holidays which allow for two weeks r&r on an idyllic beach, there are packages which focus on spa treatments, nutrition and mindfulness under the umbrella of ‘wellness’. Whether you opt for a rejuvenating retreat in Indonesia, go off-grid at a Malaysian underground hot spring, detox in a Korean bathhouse or lay back in a peaceful Japanese onsen, you’ll return from your holiday refreshed and recharged – and ready to plan the next one!
No contest - it’s officially Bhutan. Recently visited by Selective Asia's Produt Manager Gemma, this fascinating country was the first to pioneer the idea of Gross National Happiness as a measure of productivity (a concept now enshrined in its constitution), and is also the world’s only carbon-negative country, producing very little pollution and protecting their vast forested regions fiercely. The unspoilt landscapes range from subtropical jungle to snowy peaks (including a contender for the world’s highest unclimbed mountain). Trek up to the Tiger’s Nest monastery, see bears and leopards, enjoy a spiritual retreat and stay in some seriously high-end luxury accommodation; however you experience Bhutan, you’ll definitely come away smiling.
Ensuring that the communities we visit receive the maximum benefit from their tourism profile is high on our agenda, and 2018 will see that commitment grow throughout the industry. From supporting grass-roots rice production to enjoying a top-notch meal that boosts a local cause, every aspect of travel can be tailored to give support directly to the locals in the places we love. Particularly in Myanmar’s rural areas, such as Loikaw and Irrawaddy, these kinds of community-based initiatives are making a tangible difference by creating jobs and encouraging education as well as providing resources to allow communities to protect and promote their heritage.
Most of us are, either for work or leisure, online much of the time. Even when on holiday, the tension between switching off and staying connected can be stressful: we all need some help to unwind and let go of our tech. There are many destinations in Asia which, thanks to patchy mobile signal and limited WiFi, are still relatively off-grid. 2018 will see this become an active plus point rather than a minus! Enjoy the night sky unspoilt by light pollution from a cosy lodge in the foothills of Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains, head for a remote Lombok beach camp or sail away from it all in the Mergui archipelago. And try not to think about your emails.
Mondulkiri is set to be a destination with a strong voice in 2018. One of Cambodia’s most beautiful regions, Mondulkiri has waterfalls tumbling over rambling rocks, lush orchards, and undulating ‘seas’ of misty, forested hills. Tribal life has been running to the same rhythm here for centuries and it is easy to romanticise this slower pace of life. Keen hikers can trek to the impressive two-tiered Bou Sraa waterfall, coffee ‘beanies’ can enjoy lunch at a coffee plantation, and a visit to see the pioneering conservation work at the unique Elephant Valley Project is a cherry-on-the-cake experience. Another ideal destination for turning off your phone and tuning in to nature.
Spending a couple of weeks on that deserted sandy beach in the middle of anywhere certainly has its appeal, but more and more travellers are looking for a real connection; hoping to gain a deeper understanding of what makes their favourite destinations tick. This means spending time among the locals, getting involved in local pastimes and sitting down together for a chat over a beer - or whatever beverage takes your fancy! Nothing beats hobnobbing with a new acquaintance, sharing stories and having a laugh together, for bringing a place to life. To find that common ground before you even arrive, look out for our newly launched Guide Connect where you can be introduced to your first guide before you travel.
Destination Specialist Ed has just returned from West Papua and is itchy to share with you his tales! Keep your eyes peeled on the blog, but in the meantime let us tell why we love it. New Guinea has an unique and idiosyncratic ecology like nowhere else on Earth, and the jungle-covered landscape of West Papua is the perfect place to see it. Covered with rich rainforests, bordered by coastal swamps and climbing to snowy peaks, West Papua is aflutter with over 600 tropical bird species as well as endemic marsupials like the tree kangaroo and cuscus, saltwater crocodiles, spiny anteaters, monitor lizards and green tree python, not to mention the brimming coral reefs offshore. It is a wildlife paradise which excited Charles Darwin himself, and eco-tourism is gently helping to keep it that way.
One last trend which is gaining momentum as we head towards 2018 is the idea of highly-personalised, responsive travel. Holiday time is precious and we are all looking to make every minute fit our needs perfectly, whether that’s luxuriating by the pool or camping in the shadow of a temple. Happily, that’s something we’ve been giving our clients for years, so long may the trend continue!