True or False: When we think of luxury destinations, images of overwater villas in the Maldives and luxury hotels and cars in Monte Carlo may come to mind.
Answer: True. If it were 2005.
Many things have changed in more than a decade, including how we define luxury.
Sarah Hoyland, Director of The Classic Safari Company described it perfectly: “How we define luxury is changing. It’s gone from a five-star hotel to a five-star destination.”
(And if I may humbly add: five-star experience as well).
Every year, the travel industry spends a lot of time, resource and effort to determine what the meaning of luxury travel holds for travellers. And if we are to collate the last five years’ trends – we can sum it up simply as luxury travel being subjective and experiential.
So while one luxury traveller’s five-star destination and experience can be another’s one-star, there are certain destinations that are noticeably emerging in the luxury travel market for various reasons.
Because travel has become more convenient than ever, we can expect these emerging destinations list to be more varied.
Here are few destinations that have seen a considerable influx in visitors and have provided luxurious experiences to travellers over the last year or so.
French Polynesia (Tahiti and her Islands)
Tahiti has always been a popular honeymoon destination since the 1970s. And though this has been constantly what Tahiti has been known for, it hasn’t really as a destination, been described as popular or teeming with visitors. (And to be honest, this makes a huge part of why it is an alluring destination).
Tahiti is known as the forefront destination for overwater bungalows. After all, it is here (in the island of Moorea) where the world’s first overwater bungalows were created.
While overwater bungalows in Tahiti can fetch up to USD 5,000 a night, new luxe resorts are not sprouting every month in Tahiti. Unlike its other ‘island paradise’ counterpart the Maldives, it’s not teeming with tourists, and this has been a great advantage for Tahiti.
Accommodation ranges from luxury hotel chains- the latest resort to open was the Conrad Bora Bora Nui in 2017 (they took over the Hilton Bora Bora), to boutique pensione houses (lodges).
Due to cost of rates in Tahiti (being an overseas collectivity of France, the currency used is Euros) and its isolated location, it has steadily become a destination that many travellers consider as a far-fetched dream.
Moreover, the combined exclusivity to Tahiti along with its varied landscape of sea and mountains make it a very attractive and coveted destination.
But things are changing. If Tahiti were a person, she is slowly becoming more ‘approachable’. Airline flights to Papeete (the capital of Tahiti) have increased over the past couple of years, making it more accessible for the world to get to Tahiti.
Travellers from mainland America have two options: United Airlines has flights to Papeete from San Francisco three times a week, and Air Tahiti Nui flies from Los Angeles to Papeete daily. Those who are in Hawaii can catch the weekly flight to Papeete with Hawaiian Airlines.
Australians and New Zealanders have Air Tahiti Nui and Air New Zealand to get to Tahiti.
Passengers from North Asia can also fly from Tokyo to Papeete twice a week, and Europeans can opt to fly out of Paris to Tahiti (going via Los Angeles).
Air Tahiti Nui, the official carrier of French Polynesia, is going to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2019 and it just launched its inaugural flight with the Dreamliner for flights from Auckland to Papeete.
Where to Stay: the Club Bali Hai in Moorea was the first resort in the world to offer overwater bungalows in the early 1960’s. It’s a rustic kind of luxury with an amazing backyard view of the mountains and the sea. It had just renovated and reopened in February of 2018.
If we are to speak strictly, Costa Rica is not really an ‘emerging’ destination. Costa Rica receives over 1.7 million tourists per year, majority coming from the US and Canada.
Of late though, travellers are increasingly wanting to visit (or re-visit) Costa Rica without really roughing it. One of the known trends luxury travellers are doing is combining luxury with adventure.
And Costa Rica is considered to possess the highest density of biodiversity of any country worldwide. Approximately the size of West Virginia (1/3 percent of the Earth’s landmass), Costa Rica contains four percent of the planet’s species.
Needless to say, the luxury destinations that are rising in Costa Rica are regions where one can combine staying in luxury amidst the wildlife. One of these is the Gulf of Papgayo, a strand of beaches located in the Northwestern Guanacaste Province. The Papagayo Peninsula has become one of Central America’s premium luxury destinations and is not short on luxury rental properties and fine dining restaurants.
Some of the world’s last and most diverse dry forests are found in the Guanacaste province so most of the resorts and hotels in this region have mastered the art of eco-luxury.
Escorted tours in Costa Rica are also rising as travellers desire to explore the wildlife in convenience.
Where to stay: Costa Rica has a lot of luxury eco-resorts all over the country. One that stands out is The Pacuare Lodge in Limon Province. It is tucked within 25,000 acres of protected Costa Rican rainforest and can only be accessed via a raft.
Luxpeditions (luxurious expeditions) are a rising trend in luxury travel. This is the reason why Iceland and cruises to Antarctica have become popular over the last few years. Far-flung destinations seem to provide us a sense of accomplishment just by arriving there, more so when one has done activities or experiences that are either unique or just a little physically taxing.
And this is where destinations like Mongolia come in. It’s not hard to see the allure of Mongolia. It has amazing landscape, and is also home to a very nomadic culture. Mongolian culture was largely shaped by the nomadic pastoral lifestyle. This, along with the mystique of its geographical location (bordered on the north by the Russian Federation and on the south by the People’s Republic of China) steadily draws travellers to the country.
My personal theory is that the nomadic culture is what fascinates travellers so much as most of us have a nomadic calling.
Because luxury travellers want to go off the beaten path whilst still maintaining that sense of security, there is an abundance in luxury travel tour operators offering guided tours in Mongolia. Tourism as a whole is still in its infancy stage in Mongolia but you will always find a tour operator that offers an array of guided activities– from trekking the Gobi Desert to celebrating the Golden Eagle Festival.
The days of Mongolia only being reached by hardcore adventurers and backpackers are slowly coming to an end as mere mortal travellers are realising that you don’t really need to be a full-blown nomad to get to the “land of the blue sky” (Mongolia is cloudless for more than two-thirds of the year).
Where to stay: Staying at The Shangri-la Ulaanbaatar (where flights to Mongolia land) is a great way to start and end your Mongolian adventure in luxury.
Thailand falls under a similar case to Costa Rica, whereby it isn’t really an emerging destination. Quite the opposite actually. Thailand is one of the world’s most visited places and last year received more than 35 million tourists. (China makes up majority of these tourists , and the UK leads tourists from Europe, followed by Germany). source
Thailand is a one of those resilient and tourist-friendly destinations that seems to keep growing despite setbacks every now and then (natural disasters and military juntas, to name a couple).
Thailand is no stranger to tourism but it is an emerging luxury destination. Because one’s dollar (or Euro / Pound) goes a long, long way in Thailand, it is tempting to spend your travel money on luxurious experiences and shopping in the country.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a USD 1.6 Billion luxury mixed-use development called Iconsiam just opened at the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok.
It is a 750,000 square metre riverside complex made up of retail, dining, entertainment and residential spaces.
This mega development has two retail complexes that houses 500 brands (most of them luxury). The developer has also invested in its own BTS Skytrain line, which is set to begin service by 2020.
This is to accommodate luxury shoppers worldwide, and no doubt will attract more shopaholic travellers to the region.
Where to stay: Bangkok is home to many luxury hotels, but one of the sleekest and stylish ones is the SO Sofitel Bangkok, a seductive statement of art which is a design collaboration between Thailand’s five top designers and Christian Lacroix.
The term ‘emerging’ can be debatable, as one can be going yearly to Tahiti, for example over the last 20 years, while another traveller may just have discovered it.
Still, with the influx of hotels, airlines, shared accommodation and the like, we can only expect a boost in popularity in certain destinations that years ago would not have made ‘top lists’.
Let’s all take this opportune time of travel being at its most convenient to discover the world, one emerging destination after another.