Never mind the recession, we need a break

The downturn and plunging pound will dictate this year's hot holiday destinations. Ian McCurrach reveals a broad choice ... despite shrinking budgets
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The Independent Travel

1. Britain

Holidaying at home to make savings is likely to be a winner this year. Research conducted by Visit London and Visit Britain has revealed growing interest in British holidays that are perceived to offer a quality experience at good value.



Elliott Frisby from Visit Britain said: "Current exchange rates could present a perfect scenario for British tourism as we reconsider those overseas trips and look at experiences at home.

"The Lake District, Cotswolds, Cornwall and Devon are perennial choices and, no doubt, they will see bookings rise in 2009. The British seaside resorts are also rejuvenating, with regeneration projects such as the marina at Torquay."

The experience of the self-catering specialist Hoseasons seems to bear this out. Some of its British products are already close to capacity bookings for this summer. Hoseasons' Pete Joiner said: "Our 2009 bookings are 20 per cent up, year on year. Boats, parks and lodges are proving extremely popular."

Meanwhile, Scotland is reaping the benefit from a strengthening ski holiday market, although much here will depend on snowfalls. Last year, the country's ski slopes enjoyed their best conditions for seven years with 165,000 skier days in a season that lasted right up to the May Day bank holiday.

"This season has got off to a record start with falls opening Lecht, Cairngorm and Glenshee and increased inquiry levels," said a spokesperson for Visit Scotland.

And they are also eager to turn the weak pound to their advantage in Wales. New developments include boutique hotels – the Fronlas and the Townhouse, coming in March – and the opening of the Snowdon Summit café in the spring.

Alun Ffred Jones, the Welsh Assembly minister with responsibility for tourism, says: "Wales offers a truer, richer, deeper experience, getting people involved in the local history, culture and landscape."

Details: Visit London (020-7234 5800; www.visitlondon.com), Enjoy England (020-8846 9000; www.enjoyengland.com), Visit Scotland (0845 22 55 121; www.visitscotland.com), Visit Wales (08708 300 306; www.visitwales.co.uk), Hoseasons (0844 847 1356; www.hoseasons.co.uk), Fronlas (01558 824733; www.fronlas.com), Townhouse ( www.townhousewales.co.uk).

2. Mid-haul

Mid-haul destinations will dominate the favourite travel hot spots' list this year, according to Thomson and First Choice's Trends Reports for 2008-09. The market researchers, Mintel, confirm the rising popularity of Tunisia, Egypt and such Middle East destinations as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman, which offer a mix of lower prices, guaranteed temperatures, and a more exotic welcome.

Richard Cope at Mintel said: "Rising prices means people are looking outside the euro-zone. The easyjet routes into Morocco make these places accessible. People are competitive about holidays and [may feel] there's something old hat about the Med."

Details: Thomson (0871 231 4691; www.thomson.co.uk), First Choice (0871 200 7799; www.firstchoice.co.uk), easyjet (0871 244 2366; www.easyjet.com).



3. China

The 2008 Beijing Olympics put the world's fourth largest economy on everyone's holiday radar. And there are more extraordinary spectacles to enjoy in 2009. On 22 July, the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century is expected to cast a complete shadow over the country.

David Pattison, head of product and marketing at Voyages Jules Verne, confirms the company is experiencing growing interest in this once isolated country. He said: "Bookings to China for the 2009 solar eclipse are buoyant, along with trips to Guilin, Xian, Shanghai, Beijing and Yangtze river cruising."

Many major five-star hotel chains have moved into China over the past year, indicating a need for quality beds. Most are towering affairs – the Chinese believe height symbolises wealth. But the tallest so far is the Shanghai Park Hyatt. The highest hotel in the world opened last September, occupying the 79th to 93rd floors of the Shanghai World Financial Centre.

Details: Voyages Jules Verne (0845 166 7003; www.vjv.co.uk), Shanghai Park Hyatt (00 86 216 888 1234; www.shanghai.park.hyatt.com).



4. Non-euro Europe

Avoiding the euro will be the name of the game for holidaymakers who want to remain within Europe. Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and Lithuania are all likely to be identified as this year's poundstretchers.

Justin Francis, managing director of the ethical holiday company Responsible Travel, says travellers are aiming to get maximum value from their holiday budgets, adding: "New this year to our top 10 list of holiday destinations is Turkey. It's deemed to be good value because it is outside the eurozone."

Vilnius in Lithuania is also predicting record visitor numbers for its reign as one of this year's European Capitals of Culture – the first to be chosen from among the newest wave of EU member states.

Details: Responsible Travel (01273 600030; www.responsibletravel.com), Lithuania Tourism ( www.lithuaniatourism.co.uk).



5. South Africa

Brits are flocking back to the southern tip of Africa to take advantage of the weak rand, which has fallen steadily against the pound and is approximately 12 per cent weaker than this time last year. In its Trends 2009 report, Travolution, an online travel industry website, predicts that the country will be a clear winner for its exchange rate, climate and scenery.

Visitors will still have to cough up for the flight but, once there, stylish accommodation can be had at budget prices. For example, Hostelbookers is offering rates in Cape Town from £36 per room per night and on safari from £2.50 a night. I-escape, which rates South Africa as its favourite long-haul winter sun destination, is offering a penthouse that sleeps four, at Glen Beach Villas in fashionable Camps Bay, from £163 per night.

The big news this year will be the opening of One&Only Cape Town, including Africa's first outpost of Nobu, in May. And Cape-Xtreme is offering new packages including "safe" shark diving and cycling tours.

Details: Hostelbookers ( www.hostelbookers.com ), i-escape (0117-942 8476; www.i-escape.com), One&Only (01753 899800; www.oneandonlyresorts.com), Cape-Xtreme ( www.cape-xtreme.com), South African Tourism (020-8971 9350; www.southafrica.net).



6. St Kitts

British Airways' new weekly scheduled flight from Gatwick via Antigua to St Kitts launches next Saturday, opening up the overlooked island to more visitors. Tracy Long of British Airways says: "Our premier customers are predicted to seek out this new flight, because St Kitts offers an alternative to the other Caribbean destinations currently available."

The island will also benefit from new developments including Elite Island Resorts' Ocean's Edge Resort, which is scheduled for the end of this year, and a Mandarin Oriental hotel that is slated for 2010 as part of the new Christophe Harbour complex.

Will all this change the low-key nature of St Kitts? "The new resorts have been designed to complement the landscape and preserve the heritage, key attributes and natural environment that set the island apart from others," assures a spokesperson for the tourist authority.

Details: British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com).

7. Rwanda

New tours by mainstream operators such as Thomson Worldwide, the Adventure Company and Bales Worldwide indicate increased interest in Rwanda. Iain Fenton, sales and marketing director of Bales Worldwide, said the African country "offers some terrific new wildlife experiences to our portfolio for 2009".

The slopes of Rwanda's Virunga Mountains are home to nearly half the world's remaining population of mountain gorillas. "The country is a perfect extension to a Kenyan safari flying to Kigali from Nairobi and transferring out to the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, close to the entrance of the Parc National des Volcans," added Fenton.

Details: Bales Worldwide (0845 057 1819; www.balesworldwide.com), Thomson Worldwide (0871 664 1100; www.thomsonworldwide.com), the Adventure Company (0845 450 5316; www.adventurecompany.co.uk), Rwanda Tourism Board (00 250 576 514; www.rwandatourism.com).



8. Washington

Although the pound is also struggling against the dollar, holiday bookings to the US are still looking strong as thousands of Brits continue to choose North America as their top long-haul holiday destination, according to data released by ebookers.com.

President-elect Barack Obama and his new administration are clearly a key draw. A spokesperson for the Association of British Travel Agents confirmed: "There has to be a feel-good factor and there will be goodwill towards the US as a destination."

Washington, in particular, is well placed to benefit from the inauguration of the country's first black president. The whole city was booked out months ago to see Obama being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States on 20 January.

Details: Ebookers (0870 010 7000; www.ebookers.com), Destination DC (001 202 789 7000; www.washington.org).



9. Kenya

The Obama effect isn't just confined to the US. The ancestral homeland of the Obamas in Kenya is near the shores of Lake Victoria, a few miles north of the equator, some 300 miles northwest of Nairobi and a far cry from the White House.

The country is already on the road to recovery after last year's post-election violence, and the Kenya Tourist Board is upbeat about what this year will bring. "Kenya has shown resilience over the past nine months of 2008 and remains very optimistic as the country surges on with recovery campaigns and UK visitor numbers steadily rise," a spokesperson said. "We predict an even more successful year in 2009, with tourism figures set to increase by 10 to 15 per cent due to the 'Obama effect'."

There are new deals to catch the eye, too. Alison Pritchard, Monarch Holidays' product manager, said: "Our long association with Kenya has meant that after the troubles at the beginning of 2008, Kenyan hoteliers have worked with us to offer considerable discounts to pass on to our clients. The lower prices have attracted those who would not necessarily have considered Kenya, and this trend will continue into 2009 because it offers fantastic value for money and will compete with the more traditional holiday destinations."

Last year, Monarch introduced the Tsavo Aruba five-night safari and beach break slipping in at £799 per person, including flights and most board. Pritchard added: "Passenger figures have doubled since its launch and we believe this growth will continue."

Also in response to the Obama election, Kenyan specialist Somak Holidays has launched five new tours, including the western area of the country where Obama's father came from.

Details: Kenya Tourist Board (020-7367 0931; www.magicalkenya.com), Monarch (0871 423 8568; holidays. www.monarch.co.uk), Somak (020-8423 3000; www.somak.co.uk).



10. Australia

Even if you haven't yet caught this Christmas's epic movie Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, you can't have missed the publicity. The message is clear: Oz is big in 2009.

But the feel-good effect isn't just down to Baz Luhrmann's blockbuster. Like the UK pound, the Australian dollar is weak, making it one of the few destinations where Brits can take time out relatively cheaply. At press time, the exchange rate was 2.04 Australian dollars for every pound, according to Travelex.

There are plenty of new products to enjoy too. Gordon Ramsay has confirmed that he is opening an outpost of his Maze restaurant in Melbourne Crown Tower's new, and as yet unnamed third hotel. It will have a total of 658 rooms, making it the biggest hotel in Australia. For racing fans, the 2009 Formula One season kicks off in Melbourne with the Australian Grand Prix from 26-29 March, when world champion Lewis Hamilbegins the defence of the title he won in such dramatic circumstances last year year.

The outback is predicted to be popular thanks to Lurhmann's movie, which featured Voyages El Questro Wilderness Park. Motorhome and camper-van holidays with Maui or Britz offer a cost-effective way of getting around - living space and vehicle in one, self-catering on as many sites you can park your vehicle on, all for less than £10 per night. Bridge & Wickers can tailor holidays to combine outback and city.

Details: Crown Towers ( www.crowntowers.com.au), Australian Grand Prix ( www.grandprix.com.au), Tourism Australia ( www.australia.com), Voyages (00 61 2 8296 8010; www.voyages.com), Bridge & Wickers (020-7483 6555; www.bridgeandwickers.co.uk); Maui Rentals ( www.maui-rentals.com); Britz Campervans ( www.britz.com).

Simon Doonan: Author of 'Beautiful People'

"A vacation should be a gorgeous treat rather than an endurance test. Now that times are tough people have no need to voluntarily inflict hardship upon themselves just to see what it feels like to rough it. In 2009 everyone will be kicking it old school.

"Aix-en-Provence, Big Sur, Palm Beach, Venice ... the old farty-but-comfy places will see a resurgence in popularity. Instead of spider hunting in Madagascar, I will be skipping down the cobblestones of Capri in search of a bit of squishy comfort and glamour."

Simon Doonan is also creative director of Barneys New York. 'Beautiful People' is published by Collins (£7.99)

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