LEISURE

Breaking away

Travel to exotic destinations is booming

RIC DOLPHIN March 13 1989
LEISURE

Breaking away

Travel to exotic destinations is booming

RIC DOLPHIN March 13 1989

Breaking away

LEISURE

Travel to exotic destinations is booming

Lee Gonczy, the 32-year-old manager of a Vancouver travel company, has a suitcase full of stories. She remembers the time eight years ago when she was travelling on an Indonesian train and noticed blood dripping down the outside window. It turned out that a man riding on top of the train had been accidentally decapitated by a low-hanging wirç. Then, last year, when Gonczy and a friend were vacationing in the east African nation of Kenya, they encountered a Masai tribesman who asked them how many cows each owned for a dowry. Gonczy’s companion explained that she only had a dog. How, the tribesman wanted to know, could she ever expect to obtain a husband with such an insignificant marriage offering? There was a time when relating such exotic travel tales was the privilege of a relatively small number of jet-set travellers. Now, in an era of cut-rate international airfares and all-inclusive “adventure packages,” people are travelling more than ever—and globe-trotting Canadians find it almost as easy to fly to Bangkok as to Banff.

Tourism experts expect 1.4 million Canadians to travel to foreign countries in March—up by 18 per cent over six years ago. And although many of the March-break travellers still flock

to the beaches of Florida and California, an increasing number, experts say, are vacationing in more exotic climes. Indeed, between 1982 and 1988, the amount of foreign travel to non-U.S. destinations in March alone doubled to 310,000 departures from 156,000. The trend toward the more exotic location is reflected throughout the industrialized world. The tiny Asian kingdom of Nepal, for one, which counted only a few hundred Western tourists a year three decades ago, now receives about 250,000 tourists annually, including some who take private chefs along as they hike in the lofty Himalayan mountains. Even Antarctica, largely unexplored until this century, is now being regularly visited by cruise ships whose passengers flock ashore to stroll among the continent’s elegant emperor penguins. “I don’t think there is any question that there’s a shift toward the exotic,” said Rodney Marlin, president of the Vancouver-based Marlin Travel Group Ltd., Canada’s largest travel agency with sales of $525 million in 1988. “And it’s going to grow and grow.”

The phenomenon is part of the spectacular boom during the past three decades that has made travel the world’s biggest industry. The travel business—the booking agencies, buses,

ships and airlines and the rapidly proliferating chains of hotels and resorts that have sprung up around the globe to accommodate the tourist explosion—now accounts for about 12 per cent of the world gross product, or $2.4 trillion (that is, $2,400 billion). In 1988, the travel industry logged about 400 million tourist arrivals around the world, a 37-per-cent increase from five years ago. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians went on 18 million tourist jaunts to the United States and overseas last year—a 10.5-per-cent increase over 1987.

For most North American tourists, the favored vacation destinations are still in the traditional sun-and-sand resorts of the Caribbean, Mexico and southern Europe. But in the past five years, a growing number of travellers, bored with the beach and eager for more memorable vacations, are seeking out the exotic with junkets to Thailand or Tanzania, Beijing or Bombay. Travel industry experts estimate that exotic and adventure travel—as opposed to the traditional week on the beach or three weeks in Europe—accounts for a rapidly increasing proportion of world tourism and as much as 20 per cent of holiday bookings by Canadian travellers.

The boom in exotic travel stems from a number of impulses on the part of seasoned travellers of all ages—including the desire for new thrills. Former communications minister Flora MacDonald, for one, went hang gliding in Spain’s Pyrenees mountains last summer. “You really feel like a seagull,” said MacDonald, 62. “You soar all over the place. It’s a tremendous mental break.” There are other bonuses. “People are out to buy memories,” said John Meagher, a professor of theology at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College who two years

ago travelled for six months to Rome, Jerusalem, India and Hong Kong. “Nowadays, if you say you were in Italy last year, you get trumped by someone who says: ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I was there five years ago. Last year, I went bicycling in Japan.’ Much of it is an ego-value experience.”

Jean Lewis, 64, of Minnedosa, Man., is among the new breed of veteran travellers looking for unusual vacation destinations. Bitten with the travel bug about 10 years ago, Lewis—who worked as a constituency secretary for Charles Mayer, minister of state for grains and oilseeds in the federal government, until she retired last December—has taken holidays in Kenya, Thailand,

Japan and, most recently, in the Central American nation of Belize. “I have been on the kind of trip where you’re put on a bus and toured around cathedrals and castles,” said Lewis. “And that was nice once. But my trip to Belize— staying in thatched-roof cottages lit by coal-oil lamps and watching the tropical birds fly in and out—that was different. And the other tourists didn’t come rolling in vans and buses. Belize was an adventure.”

Maureen Enns, a 39-year-old artist, photographer and writer from Cochrane, Alta., describes the four months she spent in east Africa last fall as an attempt to “get off the tourist track.” Arranging her itinerary as she went along, Enns canoed on the Zambesi River in

Zimbabwe, passed through areas occupied by a primitive tribe in Kenya and spent several weeks horseback riding in that country’s grasslands. During her travels, Enns was charged by elephants and, several nights in Kenya, was kept awake by the roaring of lions. Said Enns: “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

Still, although more and more travellers are anxious to get off the beaten path, many of them still want their trips to be carefully planned and safe, says Allan Ronneseth, who owns one of Canada’s oldest and largest adven-

ture travel firms, Westcan Treks Ltd. of Edmonton. With sales of $12 million in 1988, Westcan last year arranged adventure trips for 4,000 customers, sending small groups on journeys up Egypt’s Nile River, across the Sahara Desert on camels and through the

mountains of Thailand on foot. According to Ronneseth, many of his customers want to have a “soft adventure.” One such excursion is his firm’s “Royal Nepal Experience,” a 10-day trip that includes a flight over Mount Everest, two nights in Kathmandu’s five-star De L’Annapuma Hotel and a four-day hike into the Himalayas accompanied by servants who carry the tourists’ baggage and set up tents. Cost of the trip: $3,170, including return airfare from Vancouver.

Other travel firms offer vacation packages tailored to travellers with special interests. Responding to the growing fascination with reincarnation and other so-called New Age spiritual beliefs, travel companies, including Power Places Tours of Laguna Beach, Calif., have begun offering tours to sites of what operators call I “spiritual significance,” including the S ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu in 1 Peru and the Great Pyramids in § Egypt. Said Tanis Helliwell, a Toron° to-area business consultant who helps arrange New Age tours: “It’s someu thing people are really starved for: to feel some kind of connection to some-

thing larger than themselves.”

For well-financed travellers who want to broaden their knowledge of the world, Society Expeditions of Seattle offers cruises in the Southern Hemisphere that start at $3,200 for a 12-day excursion. Last year, Society’s two cruise ships took about 5,000 tourists on trips to such places as the upper Amazon and Baffin Island. This year, Society Expeditions plans to put parties of tourists ashore in various Antarctic locations. Said Peggy Nuetzel, Society’s director of marketing: “People are collecting countries like they collect stamps, and Antarctica is usually the last.”

Actually, the most exotic trip of all may eventually be one that takes travellers literally out of this world. Officials of Space Expeditions Inc. of Seattle say that by the late 1990s their company hopes to be sending passengers into low Earth orbit, using its own launch vehicles and a reusable, 20person space capsule. According to operations director Susan Livingston, 200 people have already paid $6,200—about 10 per cent of the final cost—to reserve a seat on the company’s spaceship, which is still on the drawing boards. If the firm’s dream becomes a reality, travellers will at§ tend briefings at a resort to be built at B a launch site in California, then make 5 an eightto 12-hour space flight, 125 miles above the Earth. “Many of our customers are experienced world travellers,” said Livingston. “What attracts them is the idea of being able to see that world from space.” After that, world-weary travellers will have to shoot for the moon.

RIC DOLPHIN with correspondents’ reports