Are you looking to get healthy while enjoying a nice getaway? More and more top-flight hotels—ranging from yoga retreat Kamalaya in Thailand to the fitness-oriented Rancho La Puerta in Mexico —are offering wellness expertise alongside the chance to coddle yourself.
Care to take it a step further and actually undergo a medical procedure? The burgeoning field of medical tourism has little or nothing to do with spas and inner peace and everything to do with surgery—albeit surgery in a beautiful destination with hospital accommodations to rival those of a four-star hotel.
Or maybe you’re a traveler who wants to get on the water but has no interest in joining the crowds on behemoth cruise ships. In that case, head for the river, whether you want a modern boat on the Rhine or something more offbeat, like Volga River itineraries on decidedly proletarian Soviet-era ships. One of the newest riverboats is the Mekong Sun , a 28-passenger Laotian-built vessel that follows a formerly inaccessible stretch of the Mekong River from Vientiane, past the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang , and into the Golden Triangle.
All of these trends were in evidence at the recent 2009 ITB Berlin travel show—as good an indicator of patterns in tourism as any convention in the world. At ITB, 11,098 exhibitors from 187 countries spread throughout the center’s 26 halls, a carnival of cultural displays, musical performances, handicraft demonstrations, even antique steam trains. Visitors to ITB come to see what is hot in the travel market today and what trends are likely to catch on in the years to come.
All the major destinations were there, singing their own praises, but they weren’t the only ones touting their attractions. Among the exhibitors were Syria, Yemen, and Sudan, which did not mention the genocide in Darfur in its travel brochures. Even poor, war-scarred Kosovo made an appearance at a tucked-away, virtually undecorated booth. But the lack of pizzazz didn’t stop the reporters, bloggers, and camera crews from clogging the tiny space. Hysnije Salihu, marketing director of Kosova Airlines, wasn’t surprised by all the attention. “Well, of course,” she said. “We are a newborn country. Everyone is curious.”
Other convention-goers sampled Romanian wine (the Transylvanian Cabernet makes up for in bloodred color what it lacks in body), listened to lively Yemeni tunes, watched manic tribal dancers from Rwanda, had their hands henna-tattooed, and learned to play the alpenhorn.
In the end, a visitor could get a clear vision of many of the trends that will affect world travelers in the years to come. One thing’s fairly certain: Transylvanian wines will not be among the upcoming fads.
Whether you prefer a modern boat on traditional cruising grounds like the Rhine or something more offbeat like Volga River itineraries on decidedly proletarian Soviet-era ships, you will not lack for options. In Laos, the Mekong Sun takes up to 28 passengers along a once-unnavigable section of the Mekong River from Vientiane past the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang and into the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar come together amid mountains and jungles. Designed to resemble traditional Southeast Asian riverboats, with bedrooms and public areas furnished in a Colonial style, the Mekong Sun is purpose-built not just for this river—but for adventure-seeking passengers.
The concept of “wellness” has become a mainstay in travel. An entire section of the ITB trade show was given over to hotels where you can pamper yourself while improving your health. Dr. Elisabeth Ixmeier, founder of Healing Hotels of the World, extolled the healing virtues of some of her member properties, including Kamalaya on Koh Samui island in Thailand and Rancho La Puerta in Mexico. “As another example, to lose weight with strict discipline and medical oversight, we might refer you to Lanserhof in Austria,” she says. Something more sybaritic? Ixmeier suggests Ananda (pictured), a tranquil destination spa in the Himalayas, near Rishikesh, India.
The German railroad Deutsche Bahn believes in the allure of vintage trains, and the Trans Europ Express train Rheingold, a powerful electric engine and accompanying rolling stock from the 1960s, is its highlight. The sleek train, with deluxe dining car and glass-domed observation car, travels about Europe like a gypsy, passing through villages and countryside by day and stopping in cosmopolitan cities overnight, where passengers repair to deluxe hotels until the whistle blows the next morning. Train travel is also being smiled on again in America; President Obama included $8 billion for high-speed rail in his stimulus package, to be spent in the next two years.
Responsible tourism in all its guises, from ecotourism and indigenous travel to volunteerism and green hotels, continues to gain in popularity. One New York travel company called GoPhilanthropic weaves altruism into tailor-made trips to popular international destinations. “Our basic premise is that we can’t travel to five-star hotels and not acknowledge the poverty outside the window,” says founder John Dean. “Instead of handing out money or giving the wrong kind of gift, we work with local nonprofits or NGOs and support their ongoing efforts.” Some of GoPhilanthropic’s clients have gone to Hoi An, Vietnam, to deliver textbooks to a local school. Others have visited a village in Cambodia, where their dollars have helped to build a much needed well, or traveled to Elephant Nature Park in Thailand (pictured). “It’s not volunteering,” says Dean, “but meeting and having real exchanges with local people and contributing in a meaningful way.”
A surgical vacation? It might sound strange, but if you have to undergo a medical procedure, why not do it where you can get both first-rate hospital care and the pleasures of an exotic destination. For just one example, Thailand’s largest healthcare provider, Bangkok Dusit Medical Services, has 12 hospitals in locations ranging from Bangkok to the tropical islands of Phuket and Koh Samui. The prices are relatively affordable (upper and lower eyelid surgery for $1,500; face and neck lift, $5,600; liposuction of the thighs and buttocks, $2,500) but the rooms are plush. Some of the patients’ suites come with a living room, flat-screen TVs, and an overstuffed lounge chair next to the bed. You’ll pay an additional fee of up to $400 a day for your accommodations, including nursing care and room-service meals.
Passengers on Gulf Air who are traveling with children have the advantage of onboard babysitters called sky nannies. It’s the nannies’ task to assist with and entertain the kids on Gulf Air’s service to and from the Middle Eastern microstate of Bahrain, the airline’s home base. Look for other airlines to develop ways to handle those unruly youngsters on long flights. Now, if only they had a sky masseuse program….
Donata Donzelli, project manager in Italy for Kaldewei, doesn’t think deeper is better when it comes to bathtubs. She particularly likes the company’s shallow version. “It’s shallow but long,” she says. “So you can actually float in it.” But bathtubs are in decline overall in hotels, losing their space to stand-alone showers—especially showers built for two.