The first weekend of January brings travel industry experts and afficionados bitten by the travel bug buzzing to the Javits Center in New York City. With a strong U.S dollar and ongoing political shifts, travel destinations are opening their doors and more enticing to travelers of all ages. The New York Times Travel published their annual 52 Places to Go in 2016 this week highlighting top destinations to visit this year.
At The New York Times Travel Show, travel professionals, industry insiders as well as national tourism offices around the world convened to explore domestic and international hot spots, familiar favorites, and under-the-radar crowd-free escapes. Here are some highlights from this year’s trade show.
Before booking a trip, the travel industry is learning that experiential travel using wearable tech is the wave of the future as the internet of things (iOT) is a strong growing industry. The booth to visit this year at NYT Travel Show was Visit South Africa. With its colorful marquis spot, local travel providers ready to speak to trade professionals or regular consumers, the Oculus experience was a win for South African Tourism. Visitors scaled rock faces with expert rock climbers, met an elephant, penguins, and took a different approach to the shark tank by diving with sharks in South African waters. While the imaging of the VR experience was not crisp and crystal clear like the tech trade shows at CES or Mobile World Congress, but it is clear that this is a growing sector and the way to go for the travel industry to entice more visitors and tourism business. People will want to have a taste of what there trip is going to be like before ever leaving their home airports.
National Geographic Expeditions
The name National Geographic is ubiquitous with exploration, environmental experts and scientists, world-reknowned, gorgeous, rich photographs, and its expansion into adventure travel is growing stronger than ever. With National Geographic Expeditions adventure travelers can experience nature uninterrupted. Depending on the style of travel, one can select an expedition, active adventure, or journey according to their abilities. The bonus? The priceless landscapes, backdrops, inhabitants, and lighting that only nature can provide for any photographer’s dream shots.
We are living in extraordinary times and travel is illustrating this fact. Volunteer travel in the industry is on the rise, especially with Milennials who are more conscious in their choices and decision-making for meaningful life experiences. There are many volunteer or responsible tourism providers out there, but make sure to do your research in finding one that work with the people who live in communities that want them there. My personal experience with volunteer travel was with an organization called Pack for a Purpose on a last-minute trip for the new year’s holiday to Bali, Indonesia.
On this trip, I only packed carry-on luggage and dedicated 1/3 of my luggage space for school supplies and books for a local school in Munduk. On New Year’s Day, the hotel that I was staying at arranged a driver and a local photographer for transportation to the local schools in the area and we visited one where I got to meet the teachers and a student. Unfortunately, due to the holiday and the driver miscalculated the school dismissal time and many of the children had already started their walks home. However, I did get to meet the teachers and one student at a school and deliver my items before the 3-hour drive back to Denpasar Airport to catch the first leg of my flight home to Singapore.
Regardless of your time available for a trip, there are many compelling reasons to volunteer or support local organizations during travel. Pack for a Purpose and Karmalaya are ones that I have had personal interactions with and larger organizations such as Pencils of Promise or charity: water are worth taking a deeper look at.
Frommers 2016 Hot Destinations List
Speaking at NYT Travel Show this year was none other than Arthur and Pauline Frommer of Frommers Travel Guides. Both travel industry veterans and wonderful speakers, they shared their hot destinations to visit in 2016 and their reasons why!
Number one on the Frommer’s 2016 Hot Destinations List is Colombia. With its proximity to the United States, coffee plantations, and the home of writer Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Autumn Patriarch, Love in the Time of Cholera) it is an easy destination for Americans to travel to. Budget Airline Viva Colombia, the first and only low-cost airline to Colombia, offers flights from Miami to Bogotá or Medellín for as low as $171 round-trip.
Iceland’s Fire and Ice
Most travelers are familiar with Iceland and its tundras. With, hot spots (literally) like the Blue Lagoon, thermal springs, sprawling countrysides, and majestic glaciers, adventurers and travel beginners will be delighted by visiting this “otherworldly place of ice and fire.” The Frommers Guide to Iceland since its initial print has been a bestseller.
Spices of India
Pauline Frommer recommends one of the most populous nations in the world, India, and shared her personal photos and experience with her family vacation with Global Volunteers, a 31 year-old volunteer vacation organization. There were three regions in particular that she recommended, Chennai in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
Chennai is India’s fourth largest city that was recently hit by massive rainfall and floods. Despite recent climate conditions, the city is booming. To read more about Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu and Kanchipuram where the city of “a thousand temples”is located, click here.
For travelers who are a little more apprehensive to travel to India, Frommer recommends southern India, like Kerala on the Malabar coast. National Geographic Traveler has rated the Kerala region as one of the world’s 50 must-see destinations and also one of “ten earthly paradises.” Filled with fragrant Indian spices, colorful landscapes, and floating flotillas once reminiscent of merchants trading spices. You can read more about Kerala here.
In more recent history, the restoration of full diplomatic relations with the government of Cuba ordered by the President of the United States Barack Obama opened this once-closed country to American citizens. Many Europeans and Australians have been enjoying travel to Cuba for many years now, but finally its borders are open to U.S. travelers.
Again easy to travel to from the U.S., Havana is the hot city to see. However, due to the shortage in hotel rooms in Havana, Arthur Frommer recommends booking accommodations at casa particulares or even Airbnb for stays. The only caveats for travel to Cuba for Americans is that travel must be non-recreational. So, if you’re looking to travel to sit at the beach, that is a “no-no.” Travel must be for professional, humanitarian, or educational reasons so exercise caution when booking your travel. Wifi as well may also not be readily accessible or quite costly, but you can enjoy the relaxed pace of life offline or spice it up in the scenes of Old Havana.
Canada is the fifth hot destination on the Frommer’s list. With its neighboring borders and favorable exchange rate with the U.S. dollar (1.4oUSD: 1 CAD), it makes sense to travel to Canada. There are plenty of flights scheduled each day to and from major cities in the U.S. and Canada. With spectacular landscapes and mountains in Vancouver in British Columbia, Lake Louise in Alberta, European charm in Montreal, Quebec, or hopping Toronto, this vast neighbor of the United States is an easy win for many travelers across the globe.
Japan, Land of the Rising Sun
A favorite and once an almost unreachable destination for many travelers due to cost, Japan is more accessible than ever. Now that the yen currency has dropped against the dollar, tourism is on the rise again in the land of the rising sun.
Japan is a country where one photograph in a place can speak a thousand words, even if you cannot speak Japanese. It is a wonderful place to visit for families as well, rich in its history and openness to children in many places and more affordable for family travel.
With culture that spans over a thousand years, temples to see, incredible cuisine to taste, vibrant, sprawling cities, and picturesque landscapes that hold time still, you will find no other place on the planet like Japan and it is no wonder the country is a favorite of many travelers to visit.
With over a thousand years of architecture and design, its sprawling cities are also a sight to behold combining the new with old traditions.
Raise a glass Champagne, France!
The last location on the Frommer’s 2016 Hot Destinations List is Champagne, France. The cathedral in Reims, the largest city in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, is where traditionally the kings of France were coronated and once a major city during the period of the Roman Empire.
I recently visited the Champagne this last fall during the champagne harvest season with a friend who is a restauranteur from London. We stayed at a fermette (farmhouse) during the month of September, visiting the champagne capital Épernay, magnificient Reims, and the countryside filled with vines from the wineries and remnants of once-proud tournesols also know as sunflowers.
We had a chance to visit local champagne winery J. Lasalle in Chigny Les Roses. Both J. Lasalle and Frommer’s pick Pommery have its rich bubbly history with women. At J. Lasalle, the focus is on the tradition of the work and with its third-generation winemaker, Jacqueline LaSalle, the winery is finally seeing the fruits of her labor in her first vintage since she took over as the winery’s master winemaker. Reservations are required to visit the winery so be sure to call to arrange a time before stopping by.
Bucket Lists and Happiness
We closed out NYT Travel Show with Bridge to Bhutan’s Lotay Rinchen who was one of the seminar speakers during the trade show and Pauline Frommer. Bhutan graces the top spot on the World Happiness Index and it has been on the top of my bucket list ever since reading one of my favorite travel books, Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss.
While travel plans to Bhutan and a story has yet to be written by a visit, the Bhutan tourism is mandatory to be organized by local tourist agencies to book your hotels and restaurants. Lotay was on-hand at NYT Travel Show to speak about the “Last Shangri-La: Bhutan” and offered many tips for travelers. His company Bridge to Bhutan arranges acquiring the necessary travel documents such as a visa to Bhutan, hotel accommodations, guides, restaurants, hikes and excursions for travelers. The recommended allotment of time for a visit is between 12-14 days, but many travelers can only go for 7-8 days. Peak season to travel is in the spring (March-June) and fall (September-November), but according to Rinchen, Bhutan is really a year-round travel destination.
As a photographer behind the camera, I rarely post as many selfies as I did during the NYT Travel Show, especially in one day, but the trade show is all about connecting with people behind the scenes to inspire us to be happy by making our travel dreams and bucket lists come true. I will leave you in 2016 with this piece of wisdom from the eloquent Pauline Frommer:
You can’t have a thick passport with a narrow mind.
– Pauline Frommer