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New Hot Spots in International Group Travel


Brian Jewell
Published April 01, 2014


In the minds of most American travelers, Africa is all about wildlife safaris. And though safari destinations such as Kenya and South Africa remain strong, development in neighboring countries is creating opportunities for travelers to extend their safari tours to visit areas they may have overlooked.

Jess Millet, communications coordinator for tour operator Toucan Travel, said the company is offering day trips into Rwanda during Uganda tours and is thinking of adding Rwanda visits into Kenya itineraries.

“It’s a great opportunity to compare Uganda or Kenya to Rwanda,” she said. “They’re very different countries. You can tell that Rwanda has had a lot of foreign investment, there’s more development, and it’s less corrupt. It feels more like a Mediterranean destination than central Africa. There’s also the genocide museum there, as well as the famous Hotel des Mille Collines.”

Millett said that in southern Africa, tourists are combining safari trips with tours and beach visits in Zanzibar.

Toucan is also moving to include more cultural interactions on its Africa tours. In Namibia, groups spend some time visiting with a local tribe, learning about its lifestyle and its survival in recent years. Fees for the visit help conserve and protect the tribal land.


Middle East

It wouldn’t be accurate to label Egypt as a newly emerging destination; the country has been a favorite for visitors to the Middle East and north Africa for decades. But the country’s tourism industry is in the process of re-emerging after the difficult events of the 2011 government revolution and subsequent unrest.

Steven Larkin, president of Intrepid Travel North America, said his internationally bound company has seen signs that Americans are ready to return to Egypt.

“All the news really deterred most North Americans from considering Egypt, but we’re starting to see some growth back into Egypt,” he said. “By all accounts, it’s a safe place to travel again. There’s a lot of pent-up demand for Egypt, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see that rise in the spring and summer.”

Larkin said that Intrepid has maintained a steady number of departures to Egypt throughout the past three years, although the number of participants has been small. As interest grows, however, the company is preparing to ramp up with more capacity later this year and into next year.

The unrest in Egypt may have been a boon to other countries in the region.

“Anybody interested in the Middle East probably switched gears a little bit. Jordan has been a standout. It’s a very stable country, and it’s easy to travel to and from. It has some great historic sites that people love.

“Morocco has been an extremely popular alternative to Egypt. It has some of the same elements that you would expect in a place like Egypt. Marrakesh is one of my favorite cities. It’s still well enough off the beaten path that it can be viewed as an up-and-comer. It’s a great old city, and you can rent out wonderful villas if you’re traveling as a group.”



Vietnam and Thailand have been popular destinations in Southeast Asia for quite a while, but Jennifer Raines, marketing coordinator for tour operator Asia Transpacific, said travelers are now showing interest in spending more time in neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar and Bhutan.

“One of the big things we’ve been focusing on is Cambodia,” she said. “Most people tend to just go to Angkor Wat, and it’s fascinating. But beyond that, there’s a giant lake that offers kayaking excursions. You can go inland and meet people in the villages. There’s also a mountain range that’s right along the coast and some pretty secluded beaches on the other side of the mountains.”

Groups that tour Cambodia with Asia Transpacific can also spend time at a local orphanage and help with literacy projects.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has also been on the rise, according to Raines.

“Everyone wants to go to Burma. It’s been quite hot in the past couple of years,” she said. “We’re offering a Hidden Corners of Burma itinerary for people who want to spend more time there. You can get a taste of old Southeast Asia in the countryside. We set up visits to the tribal settlements in the north of the country. And if you get off the beaten path, there are a lot of archaeological sites and temples in the jungle that are almost undiscovered.”

Cultural and political changes now underway may make this a good time to visit Bhutan.

“It’s a unique destination that hasn’t changed very rapidly because the government has had a vested interest in keeping traditional dress and customs in place,” Raines said. “But that’s starting to change, and we think this might be the last couple of years for people wanting to see that traditional Bhutanese culture. There’s already a move to modernize, and it will change a lot of that culture.”

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