We've made a list, and checked it twice, specifically looking at places where purveyors of luxury travel are setting up shop this year.
What’s the best way of predicting the up-and-coming luxury destinations of 2018?
At Skift, we like to look at where new products are coming online, as well as chatting with travel agents and tour operators working exclusively with the affluent.
Based on these criteria, there are four markets we are keeping an eye on this year.
Japan: Tourism Rising
While Tokyo and Kyoto have long been favorite destinations for luxury travelers, the hinterlands of Japan are now getting their turn in the sun. Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel agents, named Japan as one of its top five international destinations for 2018, largely because of new tourism developments outside of the country’s major cities.
“Travelers are now exploring beyond Tokyo, finding value in Japan’s time-honored traditions and rural areas that offer traditional slices of Japanese life,” says Keiko Matsuura, a spokesperson for the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO).
To spread high-end tourism around the country, two luxury cruise trains were introduced in Japan in 2017. The Mizukaze Express, launched in June, runs through western Japan, past the scenic Sea of Japan, Mount Daisen and the Seto Inland Sea islands. The Train Suite Shikishima, which hit the tracks in May, goes through the northern regions of the country. According to Matsuura, “These luxury trains were launched this year in response to the demand of the American traveler wanting to explore beyond Tokyo.”
Beyond the rails, Matsuura says Japan is targeting high-end travelers through their stomachs, “Food serves as a gateway to the country’s culture and is a common language we can use to promote Japan.” JNTO is raising recognition of lesser-known places through collaborations with top chefs like Eric Ripert and Dale Talde.
In another effort to beef up Japan’s luxury street cred, five areas sporting high-quality tourism infrastructure formed the Japan Luxury Travel Alliance in 2016. The members are Kyoto, Sapporo, Ishikawa Prefecture, Wakayama and Nara.
The idea is to join together to strategically attract international luxury travelers to outlying areas beyond Tokyo.
What’s Up in Europe
Virtuoso has also named Portugal to its list of international hotspots. The southern European country has emerged from Spain’s shadow in the past couple of years, having shown up on several 2017 hot lists.
But 2018 will see Portugal’s arrival as a luxury destination beyond Lisbon, due to its burgeoning food scene, the international recognition of Douro DOC wines, and a spurt of luxury hotels opening in the countryside and on the coast. In fact, several well-known international luxury brands are using Portugal as a launchpad into the European market.
Six Senses opened its first European property in the Douro Valley in 2015, and in the spring of 2017, Anantara debuted its first branded resort on the continent in the Algarve. The coastal resort town of Cascais, often called Portugal’s Riviera, is also booming as it attracts high-end travelers in search of a second or third or fourth home.
According to upscale experiential travel veteran Richard Bangs, Oman seems to be the new smart destination among those who have experienced the world.
“Part of its appeal,” says the founder of Mountain Travel Sobek, “is that it is an island of peace in an unsettled sea, as it borders Yemen, Saudi Arabia and is just a skip across the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf, depending upon whose map you reference) from Iran. I think we all quest for understanding… and this is one place where we can safely venture to get a bead on the swirling currents and the cultures, and experience the beauty and traditions of a world apart.”
Oman has seen a year-over-year 22.1 percent in visitors in 2017, according to statistics from the country’s National Centre for Statistics and Information. The 2018 reintroduction of a classic Ritz-Carlton property, along with the Omani debut of the W and Kempinski brands, will likely lead to more increases.
The Kempinski Muscat is slated to open in the first quarter of 2018. Although in the city, it will very much have the feel of a resort, with more than a mile of white sandy beaches, a Greg Norman-designed golf course, and multiple food and beverage outlets. The W Muscat will open in the fourth quarter of 2018 and will focus on design, fashion and music, bringing a new vibe to the hotel landscape in Oman.
Meantime, Al Bustan Palace, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel is undergoing an extensive restoration process, which is expected to be finished by April 2018.
Owned by The Ministry of Tourism, Al Bustan Palace is one of Muscat’s most prominent landmarks and a symbol of the nation’s emergence as a destination for global travelers since it was built in 1985. The renovation builds on the luxury resort’s positioning as the premier destination for affluent travelers, including royalty and heads of state in Muscat. The property also houses a Six Senses Spa. Six Senses also runs a resort and spa on Oman’s northern Musandam Peninsula, which is celebrating ten years in business in 2018.
One More to Watch
Is this the year Tunisia makes a comeback? According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, tourism growth in 2017 (through October) has been particularly high in North Africa, led by rebounding numbers in Egypt and Tunisia.
Those numbers may get a boost in 2018 thanks to a trio of new luxury hotels. Four Seasons Hotel Tunis opened in December. The location in the affluent Gammarth neighborhood provides privacy and exclusivity, yet is close to the central business district. Most of the 203 rooms and suites have views of the sea. Ritz Carlton will be opening in the same general area at some point (yet to be announced) in 2018. Also on the grand opening calendar is a new Anantara.
According to Dillip Rajakarier, the chief executive of parent company Minor Hotels, “Capitalizing on Tunisia’s renaissance as a hot travel destination, Anantara Tozeur Resort will open in mid-2018, offering a rich gateway to the southwest area of Tozeur.” The region is a hub for Saharan adventures, renowned for its ancient history and otherworldly landscape.
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Photo credit: The Kempinski Hotel Muscat. Oman has a number of luxury openings scheduled for 2018. Kempinski