1. Next stop Hanoi
The launch last month of the first direct flights between Britain and Vietnam will spur even more travellers on to visit a part of Asia that still has the ring of the exotic about it. Using Gatwick as its British base, Vietnam Airlines is flying directly to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, considerably simplifying the journey to the country and the neighbouring states of Cambodia and Laos.
|(Vietnam) - Hanoi travel|
With its lush landscapes, dramatic temple complexes, scenic river journeys, tropical beaches and lingering reminders of the period of French rule, the Indo-China region has been attracting a growing number of British visitors since opening up to tourists some two decades ago. That trend is likely to continue, and facilities and hotels – there are now appealing boutique-style properties in each of the countries – have moved with the times accordingly. What's more, while the flights themselves knock a hole in the budget, once there costs remain reasonable.
2. Burmese days
Think you've done Asia? Seen enough temples to last a lifetime? Think again. It's early days, but Aung San Suu Kyi's decision to drop her objection to tourism to her country, coupled with the newly released Luc Besson film, The Lady, means Burma's star could go far in the 2012 travel firmament.
From the seductive capital Yangon (where noise-polluting scooters and horn-honking are banned) and the mist-cloaked forests of the Irrawaddy, to the beguiling Inle Lake and stupa-studded Bagan (best viewed from a hot-air balloon at dawn), and not forgetting the grins and handshakes here, there and everywhere, Burma is Asia as it once was. Imaginative Traveller (0845 077 8803; imaginative-traveller.com) offers a 15-day Best of Burma escorted tour from £850 per person in January including b & b, transport and excursions.
3. Northern Lights crescendo
For centuries, the Inuit tribes of the Arctic regarded the dancing ribbons of light that stretched across the night sky throughout the long winter months as the work of mischievous sky-dwellers, or ghostly visitations from the spirits of unmarried women. Today we know this wondrous display of nature at its balletic best as the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights: a celestial phenomenon caused by charged solar particles colliding with Earth's atmosphere, in an event that peaks in activity every 11 years.
Traditionally, Arctic climes are the best place from which to view the lights. Astronomers have caused much excitement, however, with their predictions that the current solar cycle is likely to reach a spectacular zenith in the next year or so. If their calculations are correct, a series of solar flares could be unleashed upon the Earth to rival those of 1958, when the Northern Lights were spotted as far south as Mexico.
If they're right, and this really is the best opportunity to see the lights in more than a generation, then in addition to the customary viewing spots of northern Scandinavia, Canada and Russia, the aurora's distinctive green and gold streamers could easily be visible in the skies above Scotland and northern England, and possibly much farther beyond.
Hurtigruten (0844 448 7601; hurtigruten.co.uk) offers a four-night, half-board Taste of the Arctic cruise, plus a a night's b & b in Tromso, from £850pp. Departs Gatwick Feb 24 or Mar 17.
4. Going places on social media
2011 was all about travel apps, 2012 will be the year of social media. Social sites and user-generated content are nothing new, of course, but using your contacts from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to influence your travel research is going to be a big trend next year.
The buzzword is "personalisation". TripAdvisor was one of the first to cash in on this, by plugging users' Facebook profiles into their friends' TripAdvisor searches. Search for a hotel or destination, and rather than just getting a list of faceless reviews from people that you may have nothing in common with, you'll see if any of your friends have been there. It's a way of getting recommendations, online, from people you know.
The latest travel start-ups are all about personalisation. Sites such as trippy.com and gogobot.com let users ask questions using their Facebook or Twitter accounts, and then build travel itineraries using their friends' recommendations. Inbed.me, which launched last month, allows you to check who is staying in a particular place before you book by connecting with Facebook and seeing if any of your friends will be nearby.
Although not travel-specific, Quora.com is part social network, part forum. You can ask a travel question and get all sorts of answers – anything from hotel recommendations to tips on travelling with children. Twitter, too, can be used to plan a holiday, with searches for hashtags. Search for #parishotels, for example, and you'll see who's tweeting about them.
More traditional companies are doing it too. KLM, for example, will next year allow passengers to pick who they sit next to by using Facebook or LinkedIn profiles.
So here's your New Year's resolution: if you're not already one of the 800 million Facebook or 300 million Twitter users, 2012 is the time to start.