Emerging Destinations

Cityscape of Guiyang, China at night
photo by SeanPavonePhoto iStock Getty Images Plus Getty Images


Agents cite Positano on Italy’s Amalfi Coast for its beauty, charm and romantic appeal.

In our search for the hot new destinations of 2012, we reached out to our recent Top 25 Agents for their insights. (We also called on some of our top editors and correspondents for their assessments.) From new cruise ports to out-of-the-way hotels and restaurants, here is a sampling of the places where your clients, especially your veteran travelers, will want to go next year—and beyond.


Donna Evans of Andavo Travel thinks Burma/Myanmar will be a place to watch next year. “This country is still not recognized by several governments, due to the military’s running of the ‘democratic’ government,” she notes. “Nevertheless, there is so much to see. With Indian and Chinese influences and Buddhism mixed with many ethnicities, the people are special, the culture is unique, the history is wonderful and archaeological sites are abundant.” She particularly loves the pagodas, palaces and temples throughout the country. As for where to stay in Burma/Myanmar, Evans recommends the “very regal” Governors Residence in Yangon, an Orient-Express property that is housed in a mansion from the 1920s, surrounded by lotus ponds, and Amata Resort and Spa, which “begs for honeymooners to enjoy the unspoiled beaches of Ngapali Beach.”


Halong Bay
Halong Bay is a scenic highlight of a visit to Vietnam.


John Clifford, president of International Travel Management, points out that the Virtuoso Luxe Report for 2010 named Vietnam as one of the top three emerging destinations for high-end travelers, along with India and Cuba. This year, Vietnam was ranked number one. It appeals to a broad spectrum of clients, including gay travelers who “love it because of its affordability, overall welcoming people, and great cultures, often combining it with nearby gay-friendly Cambodia,” he says. “Upscale gay travelers (along with mainstream visitors) love the French colonial flair...along with the liberal atmosphere in old Hanoi, or maybe a teak yacht cruise along Halong Bay, the markets of Saigon and Hanoi, and visits to the hill tribe groups and the water puppet theater in Hanoi.”

While there, he recommends visiting an island or coastal resort such as Da Nang City’s all-inclusive Fusion Maia Resort with its pool suites and tony three-bedroom beach villas that are “great for large groups of friends [and] include complimentary spa services.” He also likes the new five-star, 50-villa Six Senses Con Dao, which, Clifford says, is reminiscent of the Maldives prior to their development boom, “and often at half the price, making it culturally rich, eco-sensitive, affordable and luxurious all at once.”


Kingdom of Bhutan

Like Burma/Myanmar, the Kingdom of Bhutan has been popping up on radar screens across the industry. The government of the newly democratic country has picked up tourism as a source of revenue and wants to work strictly with the travel agent community. Also, the national airline, Drukair, has added online booking capabilities and the travelers to the country can now use credit cards.


Khamsung Yulley Monastery
Khamsung Yulley Monastery, Bhutan

This trekker’s paradise sits between India and China, and is accessible by daily flights from Bangkok and multiple flights a week from Delhi. The country has a wide range of properties, from three-star to luxury resorts by high-end companies such as Taj Hotels and Amanresorts.

The main selling points of Bhutan are its diverse culture, including Buddhist traditions, monasteries, sculptures and local crafts; its natural environment, 72 percent of which is covered by forests, facilitating trekking, biking, boating and hiking; and its potential as a destination for holistic treatments. For centuries, Bhutan has been a center for spiritual healing, and the spa market is expected to grow as more and more luxury properties debut. In support of this up-and-coming destination, the third PATA Annual Adventure Travel and Responsibility Tourism Conference & Mart will take place in Paro, Bhutan, February 3-7. The theme for the event will be, appropriately, High Value Tourism & Low Impact Footprints. —Meagan Drillinger


The Caribbean

Closer to home, Clifford lists Cuba as the main up-and-coming destination in the foreseeable future. “The curiosity from Americans and those with cultural ties with Cuba makes this destination number one on many people’s wish lists.” He recommends the neoclassical, 96-room Hotel Saratoga in central Havana, praising its pool terrace as “a great spot to take in a mojito and the view.”

Terrah Rominger of Legacy Travel thinks that Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic will keep improving. “With more and more nonstop flights there from the U.S., this is a destination that is booming,” she says. “They have some of the most pristine beaches in the world, five-star all-inclusive options and some amazing activities to boot.” (For a look at another emerging Dominican destination, see page 17.)

Ruth Turpin, owner of Cruises, Etc, says she has noted increased interest in smaller islands like Monserrat and Saba. “They are unspoiled and you see few tourist stores,” she says.


Medellín, Colombia

Flower Fair
Exhibit from Medellín’s Flower Fair.

It was Just About four years ago at TravelMart Latin America in Cartagena when Travel Agent first gleaned that Medellín was set to follow in the footsteps of Bogota and Cartagena in becoming Colombia’s next big tourist destination. Medellín continues to add attractions and U.S.-branded hotels, slowly transforming its image, long associated with an infamous drug cartel, into that of a safe and viable vacation option.

Sonesta Hotels opened a 125-room hotel in the destination last year, joining other familiar names such as InterContinental, Four Points by Sheraton and Best Western, and in June, Wyndham Hotel Group opened the 140-room, four-star TRYP Medellín. With events such as the annual Flower Fair in August, along with its revitalized infrastructure and booming nightlife, Medellín is solidifying its position as a promising destination for everyone from business travelers and families to young clients looking to dance the night away.—Joe Pike


Cruise Ports

In terms of cruises, Ruth Turpin says that her clients are looking for itineraries featuring the Dalmatian Coast. “Although Amalfi is not a new destination, cruise lines with smaller ships such as Azamara, Seabourn and Oceania can use this area as a port for the first time, and this has become extremely popular because it gives cruisers easy access to all of the amazing Amalfi coast.” She singles out two towns along the coast for couples: “Positano and Ravello…are perfect honeymoon spots. They are truly romantic and absolutely gorgeous.”

Villefranche, France, is another worthy cruise port, on an old bay, with a town full of cobblestone streets, ruins and an old fortress called the Citadelle. “The sidewalk café will draw cruisers in with great food and the best views in the world,”  Turpin says.  Villefranche is also close to classic hotels such as the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and Le Reserve in Beaulieu, but it also has a notable boutique hotel called Hotel Welcome that, she says, has “great views, wonderful staff and excellent service.”

Other increasingly popular ports in Europe include Valencia in Spain and Sanary sur Mer on the French Riviera.

Cruises in Asia have been gaining in popularity for several years. Eric Goldring of Goldring Travel recommends Orion Expeditions’ passage to Borneo, where guests can learn about local flora, fauna and culture (for example, a Malay cooking class) and even visit Camp Leakey with its founder, Biruté Mary Galdikas, and the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. “Combining the rugged natural experiences with the comfort of a luxury smaller expedition ship makes for a truly unique and life-changing experience,” he says.


On land, Eric Goldring says that the small port town of Koper in Slovenia is a gateway to “absolutely breathtaking countryside, beautiful vineyards with unique wines and a state-of-the-art aquaculture farm, which raises sea bass that is incredibly delicate in taste.”

He also recommends the “sleepy Turkish village” of Islamlar, about 500 miles south of Istanbul on the Mediterranean coast and only a short boat ride to the Greek Islands. “There is a fantastic mix of luxury villas with all possible amenities and local rural farmers living side by side,” he says. Islamlar is popular for its trout farms and a dozen or so tiny restaurants that are little more than a balcony with a great view. Goldring likes the Place of Huysein.


Istria, Croatia, has been called “the new Tuscany.”

“It is one of those unique places that you have to be willing to travel to get to.  And one needs to understand that its remoteness requires some compromises in cuisine, but the peace, tranquility, beauty and friendly locals make it truly memorable,” he says.

Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations, notes that Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast represented 3 percent of his bookings in 2012. “Most clients have been drawn to the region by the recent press about its nightlife and opening of the Aman Sveti Stefan in Montenegro,” he says.

Helena Iorio, owner of HMI Travel Consulting, recommends some hidden gems in well-known areas for unique experiences. For example, while in France, oenophiles and foodies should visit L’Esperance, a former café/grocery store in the middle of the vineyards in Vezelay; La Coquillade, a hotel and restaurant in a vineyard in Gargas (Vaucluse); and the Chateau D’Audrieu, a castle listed as a historical monument in Bayeux. All three are Relais & Chateaux properties.

Farther south in the Cote d’Azur’s “less glitzy side” is what Iorio calls “the most picturesque place ever”: Eze, a fortified medieval village outside of Nice perched up high overlooking the Mediterranean. “In Eze, one should definitely stay at Relais & Chateaux’s Chateau de la Chevre D’ Or,” Iorio says. The property is accessible only by donkey, which carries clients’ luggage up the many steps.

Diana M. Hechler, president of D. Tours Travel, recommends taking a ferry ride along the Amalfi Coast to Positano, which “looks like someone designed a postcard first and then built the town to match it—small cafés, ceramic shops, resort clothing stores and everything climbing up and down the side of the hill.” For day trips in the area, she recommends visiting Capri, Amalfi (be sure to visit the cathedral and cloister) and the Greek temples at Paestum.  Take lunch at the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello above Amalfi, followed by a stroll in the gardens.

“And you must have a sea-view room no matter which town you stay in, so that you always see the Bay of Naples glittering in the sunlight with Vesuvius dominating the skyline,” she says. “It’s all pretty magical!”



Montenegro’s Aman Sveti Stefan
Montenegro’s Aman Sveti Stefan resort has preserved the isle’s 15th century edifices.

Accessible Africa

Destinations throughout Africa have become bucket list experiences, and increased airlift has made reaching formerly far-flung sites much more accessible than they have ever been before.

Mark Nolting, president of Africa Adventure Company says that Mozambique is becoming “stronger and stronger” as a destination, especially the Gorongosa Reserve and the Niassa province. “It’s mostly for Africa aficionados who want to go off the beaten path,” he says. Wilderness Safaris will launch trips next year to the Republic of the Congo in West Africa, with gorillas as a main attraction.


Singita Sabora Tented Camp, Tanzania

Nolting acknowledges that people might confuse the very safe Republic of the Congo with the similarly named Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has had its share of political troubles recently. But even then, he says, adventure-seekers are heading into the DRC as well as Southern Ethiopia.

“The Omo River Valley has some of the most primitive tribes on Earth, and we’re going further afield to even more remote tribes,” he says. “It will be an amazing trip, and good for adventurers.”

In Tanzania, Singita recently launched their new Explore program, which gives adventurous visitors the chance to camp out on the Serengeti, miles away from any other people but right next to wild animals. In Kenya, Lamu Island has earned a good reputation as a strong mix of luxury beach escape and authentic cultural experiences on the north coast. The area is a UNESCO world heritage site, with vestiges of Swahili architecture and heritage.

Suggest your clients stay in Manda Bay or rent a villa in Shela Village, and try a dhow tour at sunset. Private game reserves have also flourished in Uganda in recent years, especially since the gorillas and chimps have returned after years of hiding.