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The top travel trends for 2017

Where will you be holidaying this year? ‘Irish Times’ travel writers look into their crystal ball

Family adventure holidays

The big trend for family holidays in 2017 is adventure and activity-based breaks, including camping, cycling and theme-park holidays, according to the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA).

The ongoing terrorist attacks are having an impact in terms of destination, however.

"Since the trouble began in places like Morocco, Tunisia and Paris we have seen a growth in interest in Spain, Portugal and the US for family holidays," says Pat Dawson, chief executive of the ITAA.


"Airlines have responded to that by putting on extra flight capacity – with more flights to Spain and new routes such as Oporto in Portugal and Miami in the US. And where capacity is increased, people will go."

A week's stay in Salou, at the four star Hotel Dorada Palace, departing August 2017 costs from €622 per person sharing, including flights from Cork and tickets to Port Aventura theme park (

A seven-day biking holiday at Camping Playa Montroig, 100km south of Barcelona, with carbon-road bike hire, insurance and airport transfers, but not flights, costs from €305 pps with KelAir Campotel (

Or opt for a family camping holiday in Croatia, making the most of Aer Lingus' new direct service to Split and staying at Plitvice Lakes National Park, with 16 lakes and 92 cascades. Four nights, including flights, car rental and tipi tent accommodation, at Turist Grabovac costs from €405 per person. A week's family camping near the Croatian city of Pula, in June, for two adults and two children, costs €1,620 including flights and transfers (

Sustainable hotspots

Responsible tourism is a world apart from the fads or frills-free school of travel that is so omnipresent these days. It has to be, because sustainability is at its heart. It is all about creating tourism that lasts, that is long term and that has lots of loving going on. Some call them hippy trippies. I call them holidays of a lifetime, and here are some of my suggestions of places where conscious, creative and fantastically cool travel experiences are emerging in 2017. As well as some of the sustainable sinners to stay well clear of.

Train lovers: Tren Ecuador ( took gold at the World Responsible Tourism Awards ( in 2016 for turning luxury train travel on its head. Travelling between Guayaquil to Quito, a stunning journey through pure volcanic virtuosity where, instead of being cocooned inside the train for days, this luxury package swaps couchettes for local haciendas and train food for community cafes. And instead of watching the landscape fly past, you are met at a station to be taken on a mountain hike with a Quichua guide. In short, this is a luxury package trip that now sustains 5,000 livelihoods. Now that is sucking diesel. Four day trips from $1,450 (€1,395)

Forays in Finland: Not only does Finland turn 100 years old as an independent country in 2017, it will also see the designation of its 40th national park. The soon to be Hossa National Park is already home to stunning hiking trails that take you into remote landscapes of lakes, ancient forests and rivers that are canoe central. Superb trips can be found with local experts Upitrek (, who organise cross country skiing, canoeing and even a wilderness triathlon in Hossa. Cross country skiing from €935/week, canoeing from €270/week. For wilderness triathlon training, enquire for details as the price depends on group size.

Mountain lovers: Pakistan's time has come to shout about its glories from the mountaintops. And Pakistan really does peaks, including 7,000m ones in the Hindu Kush and Karakoram Mountains. The security issues have been brought under control, with international advisory bodies lifting travel warnings, particularly in the north, in 2015. It is still advised to travel with experts, and award-winning responsible tourism company Wild Frontiers ( is one of these, with several exciting groups on offer, including a 16-day trip through the Hindu Kush Mountains, from £2,450 (€2,910).

With new flights from Dublin to Cluj in Romania with Blue Air ( the Carpathian Mountains are also dramatically beautiful hiking terrain. Local walking company Apuseni Experience ( will show you all the tracks and trails of the Apuseni Mountains in this spectacular Carpathian Range. Eight days of guided hiking holidays from €835.

Vanishing wonders 

It's true that large sections of Australia's Great Barrier Reef have undergone bleaching, which means the coral has turned white due to the water being overheated. The overheating stresses the coral, which reacts by rejecting the algae that feeds it. Climate change is the main reason and yet ironically Queensland exports masses of coal. Which stinks, on many levels. The good news is that the reef is far from gone, as this beauty covers 32,000km. Belize in Central America is a wonderful alternative, however, boasting the second largest barrier reef in the world, with plenty of marine conservation diving holidays led by Reef Conservation International ( A five day marine conservation diving holiday costs from €1,281. Animals as entertainers: Thanks to prolific activism over the last year, people are finally waking up to the horrors of using animals for tourism, be it orcas in captivity, riding elephants, swimming with dolphins, cuddling lion cubs or ongoing horrors such as trophy hunting, bullfights or rodeos.

The only responsible way to see wildlife is in its natural habitat. Responsible wildlife holidays on offer are simply phenomenal, from gorilla or polar bear watching to sea kayaking among whales. The widest array of responsible wildlife holidays can be found at . For responsible tourism leaders in wildlife holidays, my favourites include the Big Cats safaris with Exodus Travels ( wildlife-holidays/big-cats) where a two-week tiger safari holiday in India costs from £1,649 (€1,960) and its wildlife and whales holiday in Sri Lanka, with 11 days from £2,149 (€2,553). Of course you can always see whales in the wild in Ireland. The Wild Atlantic Way ( is a good port of call for all things cetacean.

The Polar regions: The threats in both Polar regions are very different. In Antarctica, all industries, including tourism, are heavily protected by the Antarctic Treaty. A wonderful way to see what is really going on under the ice is with Dive Worldwide (, with 10-night diving odysseys from £5,695 (€6,763). Indeed, Antarctica diving is celebrated in the film L'Odyssée, released in France in 2016 and due out here in the spring, In the Arctic, the most ethical way to travel is with a wildlife-watching company that works in partnership with environmental researchers and naturalists. Some of the finest and fairest of all include Natural World Safaris ( where an 11 day polar bear explorer trip costs from €7,137. Or Heritage Expeditions ( which lead extraordinary wildlife journeys through Kamchatka and Eastern Russian's Arctic seascapes, with eleven day expeditions from €6,935. Protection costs a pretty penny. But oh so pretty.

New trends in Ireland

Tourism in Ireland is experiencing a reorientation, from businesses offering uniform packages to a diversity of small-scale operators with dynamic locally-focused ventures.

The most innovative are focused on novel outdoor adventure pursuits, the championing of local food and providing easier access to the beauty surrounding us in almost every part of this island.

Canyoning involves following a mountain gorge along its water source – swimming, kayaking, abseiling, diving and crawling on one’s belly to descend with the water as far as you can go.

Dressed in two layers of wetsuits and a safety helmet, you drag your kayak over land where necessary. Nathan Kingerlee's Outdoors Ireland offers routes down through the Gap of Dunloe and through Torc Gorge towards the Lakes Of Killarney. (

Wild Swimming is being pioneered by John Edwards, who has set up the first swimming guide company, Wild Water Adventures, to introduce people to secret nooks and crannies along our coastline and encourage us to swim further than we otherwise might. Half-day, full-day and weekend tours explore the coast of Kerry, Clare, Cork and some hidden mountain lakes. "You can't help emerging from the water feeling renewed, with life looking a little bit sharper and brighter," Edwards says, a claim now backed up by Nasa research on the benefits of wild swimming.

Freediving is still in its infancy here. It was introduced by Feargus Callagy, who runs regular courses and dives from Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, teaching how to explore the ocean depths without oxygen tanks or regulators, just a wetsuit, weight belt, fins and snorkel.

As its greatest proponent Umberto Pelizzari says: "The scuba diver dives to look around while the freediver dives to look inside himself."

Along with coasteering, forest zip-lining, Zorbing and Blue Way kayaking, these activities are transforming how we engage with the land and sea, while the ever-spreading network of greenways and trails is facilitating access to unexplored parts of the country. Checkout the Great Southern Trail along the old Limerick to Tralee railway line, the Deise Greenway along the Copper Coast, the Old Rail Trail Greenway through the midlands and the Cooley Greenway from Carlingford to Omeath, which will very soon expand into Northern Ireland.

Finally, make sure you take advantage of the new food trails being established. The Burren pioneered the practice with weekly Monday events from April to October, to encourage people to spend an extra day in the area. There's cooking fish in a fulacht fia on Lahinch strand, kayaking out to a gourmet picnic on the Finnavarra peninsula or savouring Mellisa Jeuken's goats' cheese on her father's Lough Avalla mountain farm.

The Boyne Valley Food Series has offerings from a Gin School at Listoke Distillery and Gardens, to a meal based on the cheese, honey and fish from the area around Togher at Glyde Inn, Co Louth, or the garden produce of Tankardstown House Estate. Also involved are Brú Brewery, Dunany Organic Milling, Rock Farm Slane and Sheridans Harvest Market, with food grown and produced in a 80km radius from its old railway warehouse base in Virginia.

The latest food trail is from Loop Head, Co Clare, which offers a different food event daily, from a class in beekeeping and salad growing at Rahona Roots, bread and scone making by Glencarrig B&B and a masterclass in preparing seafood and shellfish at Sealyons Seafood, with generous tastings of all that is on offer. If these ventures are to thrive they need our support. Only by working together can we help transform Ireland into a tourism destination that is outdoor-focused, sustainable and promoting of wellness.


Food: trail-mondays;;


Solo travel

Solo travel looks set for growth in 2017. A survey of 300 travellers by, a global yoga holiday platform, found just over half of respondents 51 per cent will take their next holiday solo.

Of course, being a yoga website skews the results – yoga being the definition of ‘me time’.

But what’s also likely to drive solo travel in 2017 is the fact that an increasing number of providers are doing away with the dreaded ‘single supplement’.

At Ard Nahoo ( in Leitrim, which runs yoga classes and courses, a two day personal retreat costs €360 for the weekend, with no single supplement applying.

Responsible Travel has a range of no- or discounted single supplement options, including a five-night yoga and walking holiday in Altea, Spain, excluding flights, for €827 per person sharing or just €77 extra for solos.

According to the Irish Travel Agents Association, cruises are the top travel trend for 2017, and here too providers are – finally – catering for solos. Fred Olsen ( has introduced discounts, enabling solo travellers occupying a twin cabin to pay no single supplement, or get up to 50 per cent off. Currently, 10 per cent of cabins in its fleet are dedicated to solo travellers, one of the highest proportions in the industry (see section on cruises, below)

Cruise from Southampton to Tenerife on January 8th , a five-night journey on board Boudicca, for €759 for a solo – the same per person price as a couple.

Finally, escorted tours are a great option for solos and Travel Department's Solo Friendly ( range not only avoids single-room supplements, but organises a welcome meal at the start, so you get to know everyone from the off. Its seven-night Discover Dubrovnik trip, with guided sightseeing, coach and boat trips, includes half board accommodation for €759 per person, with no single supplement applying.


Cruising has increased hugely in popularity in the past 10 years and now multi-generational cruising is fun. New ships of varying sizes appear every year and styles of cruising have extended to appeal to a wider range of customers. Cruising, both at sea and on rivers, continues to be the fastest-growing sector of the market.

Huge investment has been poured into making it a family friendly way for travelling and appealing to all ages. Last year, Royal Caribbean launched Harmony of the Seas, the largest ship to date, though calling it a resort would be more appropriate.

It can carry 6,300 passengers, has 23 pools, 20 restaurants, the tallest slide and the deepest pool at sea, a living park in the centre, a carnival, spa centre, wave riders, a Broadway-sized theatre, skating rink, robot bar staff and a merry-go-round.

The deepest discounts for cruises are usually available at the furthest out dates, as much as two years in advance. Then, some companies will have special offers such as half price for the second passenger, discounts for children, or free drinks packages or on-board credit.

Booking at the right time is important. Some cruises will be seasonal and may showcase a wonder of the world or a spectacular view or event and will attract lots of early bookings.

Hot destination this year will be Cuba, which has begun approving cruise ships for visits to the island. Cruising is an ideal way to see Cuba as it prepares to cope with a big increase in visitors. Cruise lines already taking bookings for next year include MSC, Crystal Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Viking Ocean Cruises.

A week with MSC exploring Cuba with four nights in Havana and visits to Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Mexico will cost from €1,395pps, flights to and Havana extra,

Active holidays for the over 50s

Holidays that involve doing activities, meeting locals, participating in community education or activities are growing in popularity. This year, two of the well-known companies in this sphere have opened for business in Ireland. Explore had operated in Ireland for many years but closed during the recession when long haul-holidays were less in demand.

During 2016, there was a marked increase in enquiries from Ireland and so they have returned.

The most popular trips for this year are walking the Amalfi coast, a week exploring the beautiful coast and the Bay of Naples and culminating in the Walk of the Gods. There is time to explore Amalfi, Positano and Capri. The eight-day trip is priced from €909 pps plus flights.

People have been waiting to explore the far south of undiscovered Burma, a region that few tourists have been to, but one that the Irish are keen to explore this year. The 15-day tours will explore glistening temples including the Shedagan Pagoda, visit Dawei, camp on deserted beaches in the tropical Mergui Archipelago and meet fishermen catching dinner.

The trip includes flights, accommodation and some meals with a leader, driver and local guides from €3,250pps,; 0044 1252 884723.

G Adventures saw a big spike in travel from Ireland last year and led to the opening of an office here. The top-selling holidays for the Irish over 50s is Essential Vietnam and Cambodia, a 17-day escorted trip from Hanoi to Bangkok, including a cruise on the Mekong, from €,1699pps.

Cuba also features high on the popularity list, with people opting for home stays with Cuban families to discover the real Cuba, €1,799pps for 15-days explorations. G Adventures also has some amazing experience with National Geographic Journeys from the Arctic to the Polar regions and many ways to discover the natural world of our planet, and tel: (01) 6971360.