Don’t underestimate the Hollywood effect. Director Peter Jackson has done it again with his blockbuster film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Raking in a cool $223 million at the box office worldwide on its opening weekend in December, the film is also a huge boon to New Zealand’s tourism sector, inspiring travelers with visions of snow-capped peaks, green pastures, and a dramatic coastline carved with fjords. After the commercial success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the far-flung Pacific islands, where the films were shot, saw a spike in interest. Tourism New Zealand capitalized on this buzz with the award-winning marketing campaign, “100% Middle-earth, 100% Pure New Zealand.”
Erina Pindar at Smart Flyer in New York predicts Australia and New Zealand as a top destination for 2013. “Not many Americans are familiar with the region, yet it offers some of the most unique and luxurious lodges in the world. Though still relatively unknown in this part of the world, properties like Freycinet [Tasmania], Wolgan Valley [Australia’s Blue Mountains], and Matakauri [Queenstown] will be on the radar of those ‘in the know’ in coming years.”
Long-haul flights to Auckland on the North Island are 13 hours from Los Angeles and San Francisco on Air New Zealand. It’s possible to make a stop-over in the South Pacific for a few days of R&R on the island beaches (think Tahiti). To access Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, flights connect in Auckland or Sydney.
New Zealand has something for everyone, but nature lovers will be delighted by the country’s gorgeous landscapes, and adrenaline junkies can experience the thrill of bungee jumping in the sport’s birthplace of Queenstown. Another target customer base is retired baby boomers who have the time and resources for a longer vacation on the other side of the globe. —M.W.N.
Experiential travel continues to be a big trend, with operators seeing a bump in bookings to exotic locales. The lure of the final frontier has catapulted Myanmar to the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. Once isolated by a repressive military dictatorship, Myanmar is in the throes of tremendous change with recent government reforms and the election of democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi to Parliament after years of house arrest.
“We’ve seen an 80 percent increase in bookings in 2012, compared to the year prior,” quips Jean Fawcett at luxury operator Abercrombie & Kent. A&K established an office in Myanmar 15 years ago, and A&K USA has been offering small group escorted programs there since 2010. The first year it’s being offered, the tour “Myanmar’s Burmese Heritage” provides a meaningful way of discovering an unspoiled destination. In fact, A&K’s advisory board of top travel agents—including Mollie Fitzgerald at Frontiers International Travel, Joan Jonat at Protravel International and Lara Leibman at Frosch—recently returned from Myanmar, praising the tour as an unforgettable experience.
Rebecca Mazzaro, Asia Destination Manager at Asia Transpacific Journeys and an award-winning Myanmar/Burma specialist, cites the American demand for travel to Myanmar increasing nearly 10 fold but notes that Thailand had 19 million foreign visits in 2011 compared to 816,000 for Burma.
“Asia Transpacific Journeys has a long history of offering travel to this magical land,” Mazzaro adds, “and we’ve been long-time believers in creating opportunities for both travelers and local people to interact. We know the country, have long term relationships with the best operators, guides, and hotels, and know and love the local people.”
Responsible tours offered by companies such as A&K, Asia Transpacific and Wilderness Travel appeal to adventure seekers and cultural explorers eager to experience an authentic destination in Southeast Asia relatively untouched by the outside world. —M.W.N.