From micro-trips to eco-trips: The 10 top travel trends for 2019

A panoramic view of Tokyo at dusk with Mount Fuji in the background.

Isabel Conway spots the travel trends for the year ahead.

A trip to the annual World Travel Market in London is like walking into a fabulous shoe shop, wanting to try on and have everything. The global travel event showcases destinations from the most remote corners of the globe to the glitz of Vegas, while the industry movers and shakers, from buyers to influencers, take stock. 

It could be the rising stars of the Med like Greece and Turkey making a comeback, or the emergence of exciting new destinations along the silk road routes between Asia and Europe, among those grabbing the limelight. From road trips up the eastern seaboard of the US thanks to low-cost airlines like Norwegian, wellness getaways, to solo travelling, cooking courses in Italy and Croatia, to wine exploration in France, Spain or Georgia, a tour of the Chernobyl disaster zone or a whizz around Dracula’s Transylvania — whatever you’re looking for seems to be out there in 2019.

Guaranteed ski crowd

Snowy mountains shine on a sunny day in the Canillo ski resort, Andorra.

It’s autumn, and you are canvassing friends about going skiing together. Enthusiasm is uber encouraging. Sadly, by Christmas, interest has fallen off due to lack of funds or the spectre of spending months on crutches. Spotting a gap in the market for solos who want to join a group and go skiing, or a gang of work colleagues or neighbours believing the bigger the crowd the better the craic, Topflight has launched a range of group ski holidays to some of Europe’s best resorts guaranteeing snow, skiing, company, and craic. You can party in the principality of Andorra, celebrate St Patrick’s Day on the pistes of Soll, or enjoy La Dolce Vita in Livigno, Italy, never lacking for someone to share the thrills and spills at resorts in a wide variety of accommodation geared to all levels of skier and snowboarder. Call 01-2401700 or see www.topflight.ie.

Japan

Japan has been warming up for its moment in the rising sun, playing host to the Rugby World Cup next September and, hot on its heels, the summer Olympics in 2020. Award-winning tour operator G Adventures is taking travellers off the beaten trail to Tottori and Hagi on its popular Tokyo to Kyoto tour. Accommodation includes a home-stay in Hagi, creating purpose and an income for the ageing population and a wonderful insight into Japanese culture. An 11-day trip costs from €2,699. For more, see www.gadventures.com.

Travel a la carte and Prince Hotels & Resorts has properties in three of the 12 rugby destinations, so is the perfect base for Ireland rugby fans who will travel around beyond Tokyo. See www.princehotels.com.

For an experiential holiday, the Prince Hotels & Resorts offer insights into activities that are authentic Japan, touring markets with the chef, learning the secrets of the tea ceremony, sake tasting, and much more.

Take a slow boat

Over 50,000 Irish people cruised the world’s oceans and rivers last year. The growth has been enormous, with cruising established as a multi-generation experience for families, from toddlers to great grandparents. Mega ships are floating theme parks with something for everyone. No longer the preserve of oldies, the age groups choosing a cruise is getting younger all the time. The appeal of river cruising for Irish holidaymakers has also grown significantly, while one of its big advantages is how centrally ships dock in towns and cities. Uniworld, the luxury all–inclusive river cruise line plies a total of 23 rivers in 24 countries worldwide, including voyages in Russia, China, India, Egypt, Vietnam, and Cambodia. See www.uniworld.com.

According to Irish cruise experts tour operator Sunway, Cuba and Asia will be big cruise growth areas in 2019. See the offers on www.sunway.ie/cruise.

Getting away from it all

Adventurers may be drawn to more farflung destinations such as the Paro Taktsang Monastery clinging to a mountainside in Bhutan.

Busy, tired and stressed millennials are increasingly opting to visit places that have little connection to the outside world. TV only arrived in Bhutan in 1999, and the mountainous kingdom between Tibet and India is a hidden gem where time has stood still. See www.bluepoppybhutan.com for tours and treks showing the best of Bhutan.

Intrepid Travel’s first ever Uncharted Expedition (www.intrepidtravel.com) covering 3,500km from Kazakhstan to Mongolia on roads not yet mapped by Google, with only intermittent electricity and wifi sold out overnight earlier this year. Uzbekistan (www.marcopolo.uz) and Belarus (www.belarus.travel) are among the former Soviet republics still off the beaten track, together with Azerbaijan one of the great Silk Road routes. Irish co-owned Travel the Unknown (www.traveltheunknown.com) has fantastic off-the-beaten-track itineraries to these destinations and throughout the Balkans.

Think outside the box

Consider exploring places beyond traditional choices… My favourite first-time city visits in 2018 included Tbilisi, Georgia, on the fringes of Europe, the Serbian capital Belgrade, and Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad as well as Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. Each city projects its own version of post- Soviet charm and atmosphere. Look forward to inexpensive accommodation, surprisingly beautiful architecture, great shopping and night life and restaurant prices which are a fraction of the more mainstream capitals. Tbilisi is famous for its fabulous cuisine and wines and two people can eat well with a bottle of wine for under €20. Belgrade has an edgy café culture, while Novi Sad hosting the world famous EXIT music festival has a charming old town on the banks of the Danube. Sofia, gateway to the country’s great value winter-sport destinations, is working hard at shaking off that Communist era greyness.

In the footsteps of Robinson Crusoe

You don’t need to be mega rich or become a castaway to experience a dream Caribbean escape. Tobago is reputedly a Crusoe unspoilt paradise. And it isn’t as far flung as you would imagine.

There are affordable flights from Manchester (well served from Cork Airport) bringing the glorious island of Tobago well within traveller sights. To mark the 300th anniversary of the publication of Daniel Defoe’s castaway island adventure in 2019, Tobago is offering holidaymakers the opportunity to create their own ultimate castaway adventures on untouched corners of the island. See www.tobagobeyond.com for more on this beautiful unique island of rainforest, waterfalls, and deserted stretches of coastline, famous for birdlife and rare orchids and gregarious islanders, famed for their festivals.

Micro trips

Flights from Cork Airport connect via Manchester to a host of destinations including Dubrovnik.

‘Bite-sized’ travel around Europe is the new buzz word.

Our trips are tipped to get shorter but we will take more of them, jetting off for three- to four-night breaks. Increased routes and cheaper flights, on-demand accommodation and car rentals are making these booster micro trips more popular and varied.

Cork Airport is set to benefit from the trend, offering new destinations that include Poznan (Poland), Budapest (Hungary), Naples (Italy), Lisbon (Portugal), Dubrovnik (Croatia) and Nice (South of France). All are cities with a wealth of history, culture, entertainment, museums, nightlife, and interesting out-of-town excursions, from beaches to ancient sites and medieval villages. Tour operator Sunway (www.sunway.ie) has devised a new dynamic packaging system allowing stays from three nights onwards on flexible trips you build yourself, from Malta to Turkey, and Sorrento to Sardinia.

Return of the Titans

Spain and Portugal have had an unbeatable run in recent years offering everything holidaymakers want — sunshine, lovely beaches, good value, and family-friendly accommodation.

Now two of the titans of summer sunshine are back. From a virtual collapse of its tourism industry as Greece went into economic meltdown, Greeks are now celebrating a record-breaking year, welcoming 3.1 million visitors over the past year. Greece is now up there as a favourite destination again, loved for its laid-back islands and wonderful coastlines. Getting there has never been easier, thanks to more flights to Athens and beyond from Ireland. See www.visitgreece.gr.

Turkey’s comeback has been much slower, yet tourists are returning in steady numbers and bookings are up to Bodrum and Dalaman as well as Kusadasi on the Aegean coast.

Taking responsibility

Sustainable and responsible travel remains a hot topic, but what does it really mean? International surveys have shown that an increasing awareness of ethical issues among the young are helping to change the way holiday companies think. The philosophy underpinning all sustainable tourism is ensuring that tourism benefits local communities and economies, respects local cultures and traditions, and minimises the impact on the environment. Everything from energy efficiency to the use of recycling materials in a bid to redress the world’s plastic crisis, and wildlife conservation, are hot issues for the travel sector, says Anisha Parmar of Kamageo who are working with African countries including Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Sierra Leone and Africa’s newest country Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) to promote responsible tourism and holidays. See www.kamageo.com.

Solo vacation

As a regular solo traveller, I’ve often railed against the discrimination of single supplements on packaged holidays and group tours. Now some of the big players specialising in group travel are attracting solo travellers by waiving the penalty for travelling alone. Not that long ago it was backpackers who took off on their own into the horizon, usually teaming up with kindred spirits in hostels and on ferries for onward travel. There has been a significant growth in the numbers holidaying solo.

“Going on holiday by yourself means you don’t have to compromise on your choice of destination, your itinerary, or the activities you take part in,” we heard at the global trade fair World Travel Market in London recently. Pioneers in small group adventure travel G Adventures offer more than 700 tours in 100 countries, and many who join them are solo travellers. For more, see www.gadventures.com.

- The Holiday World Show begins at the RDS on January 25. www.holidayworldshow.com

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