As Europe approacheswinter and the festive season,folk start looking for some sunshine. With short flights and options for every budget, there’s no client who couldn’t be tempted to take a winter getaway.
The Canary Islands has average temperatures year-round hovering between 18C and 24C it feels more like summer for British visitors. The islands are classic winter-sun destinations, and early reports indicate they’re set for a bumper year. One Holiday booker reports that winter sales to the Canaries are 50% ahead of this time last year,while others have seen growth of 32%.
Airlines report strong demand for longer-duration stays in Tenerife, with the island’s bread-and-butter older market opting for a larger number of stays of 14 nights or more while others report big growth in stays of four and five nights and 10-12 nights, now possible because the operator uses daily scheduled flights from a range of UK airports, although there has also been an increase in flying capacity.
Diverse and extraordinarily good value, the Canaries have the winning formula for winter sun for families and couples too. The luxury market is particularly well-served in Tenerife. And there are deals to be had: there are offers of complimentary half-board upgrades on selected January and March dates at Hotels. In Lanzarote, a large children’s park, will introduce babies and kids’ kits this spring, with useful amenities such as bottles, high-chairs, PlayStations and DVD players.
It’s been a turbulent year for North Africa’s biggest seller, but the Red Sea resorts have been relatively untouched by the troubles and are geared up to offer holidaymakers some fantastic bargains. Olympic Holidays commercial director describes prices as, at an all-time low. Hoteliers in the Red Sea resorts have taken the initiative to discount and generate offers that are ongoing on a monthly basis and look certain to continue.
Despite the political unrest, specialist operators are doing well, with winter bookings up 6% year on year. Two new five-star hotels have opened in the resort of Makadi Bay, the first wellness property from Red Sea Hotels, and a family-focused property which has a waterpark created with the help of the architect who worked on Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai.
The operator is also offering hotels in Taba and Taba Heights for the first time, and has extended its product portfolio in Sharm el-Sheikh and El Gouna. In response to the popularity of cruise-and-stay options, there is a new option to combine a seven-night Nile cruise with a three-night stay in Cairo.
Winter is the best time to visit Dubai, as the temperatures aren’t too scorching, and there’s also a whole heap of events taking place around which to build clients’ trips. Sports fans are spoilt for choice. There’s the Dubai Rugby Sevens from December 1-3, the Dubai World Championship golf tournament from December 8-11 and the Dubai Tennis Championships from February 20 to March 3, 2012. Then on March 24 comes the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race.
But it’s not just about spectating. Visitors can participate in golf, riding, diving, shooting, climbing, falconry, skiing and sandboarding. New hotel openings for this season include the Kempinski Hotel & Residences Palm Jumeirah and the second tower of the Grosvenor House. And by the end of the year Jumeirah Creekside and The Royal Amwaj Resort & Spa from Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts will be online.
The Caribbean is prime winter-sun territory, and the lush island of Saint Lucia has long been a favourite with the British market. Both BA and Virgin Atlantic fly direct, and there is a real range of product, from great-value three-stars right up to incredibly luxurious choices. This season sees the reopening of The BodyHoliday resort, following a £10 million renovation that has refurbished guestrooms, the wellness centre, skin clinic, and added an open-plan penthouse suite with a private hammam and steam room. Sandals operates three resorts on the island. It has a new offer available at Sandals Halcyon Beach in the run-up to Christmas. Guests who book seven-night stays before October 31 for travel before December 28 will receive either a free catamaran cruise or a horse-riding excursion in a promotional exercise.
Less well-known as a winter-sun spot than its neighbour Dubai, Oman offers an authentically Arabian experience. Temperatures range from 30C in October and April and rarely drop below the low 20Cs, even in January. It’s an upmarket choice, with stunning hotels such as the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah, and the Six Senses Zighy Bay on the Musandam Peninsula. In Muscat, a new state-of-the-art Opera House opens this season, and the destination’s second 18-hole golf course is nearing completion. Day trips to visit Muscat’s mosque, palaces and souks, and out to the desert are available.
High season for the Maldives runs from December to April, and visitors this winter can choose from a host of new properties. A 112-villa resort has just opened with a fantastic range of activities and facilities, including yacht excursions, fishing trips, scenic seaplane tours, live music and karaoke. Owned by a Turkish Group, it brings a little Ottoman flavour to the Maldives, with the first Turkish hammam in the islands, and a Turkish cafe with shisha pipes.
Amari Addu Maldives boasts the longest shoreline in the Maldives – a huge two and a half miles long – and is set on the southern Addu Atoll, where guests can view giant manta rays year-round, a 271-villa resort will open in November followed by the Dusit Thani Maldives, a 100-villa resort with a 50-metre pool, the largest in the Maldives. Located on Mudhdhoo Island in the Baa Atoll, it’s less than an hour’s travel from Male.
This winter will also see the opening of Jumeirah Vittaveli on the central South Male Atoll, and Niyama, the new resort from Per Aquum, which has an edgy, modern design and sits over two islands. Built 500 metres offshore, the resort’s restaurant and lounge will appear to float on the surface of the ocean, and eight metres below will be the world’s first underwater club. The former Alila Villas Hadahaa has reopened as Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa.
Andrea Loddo, Hayes & Jarvis’s lead regional product manager, predicts a popular year for the island. “Since the end of the war with the Tamil Tigers, many of the hotels we feature have invested heavily to take advantage of increased demand. Many closed during 2011 and are now set to reopen for the winter. Standards will improve and yet prices should be competitive.” Hotels that have undergone refurbishments this year include the three-star Hotel Mermaid in Kalutara, the four-star Eden Resort & Spa in Beruwela and Hayes & Jarvis’s top recommendation, the four-star-plus The Blue Water in Wadduwa.
In Bentota the Serendib is being extensively renovated and will reopen by the end of the year as Avani Bentota Resort & Spa, the first of a new brand of hotels from the Minor Hotel Group. The 75-room Dutch-colonial-style property will be followed next year by a second hotel, Avani Kalutara. The west coast of Sri Lanka experiences its dry season from December to March, and this is the best time to visit for the beach resorts to the west and south of the island, and to visit the hill country.
As well as the golden beaches that tempt sun seekers, visitors can see vibrant towns and villages with colourful Buddhist temples, visit the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage and various turtle sanctuaries, and enjoy Ayurvedic spa treatments and delicious local curries. Sri Lanka’s climate is affected by two monsoons. The best time to visit the east coast beach resorts – up and coming since the end of the island’s political division – and ancient cities is between April and September.
Thailand is a longtime favourite for the long-haul winter-sun market, and for good reason. The hotel quality is high, prices are low, and temperatures sit at a stable 30C through the winter months. Service is impeccable and costs on the ground are low. Following a dip in popularity after 2010’s riots, 2011 has seen the country drawing tourists back. The destination is proving popular for Premier Holidays, with the operator’s forward bookings for 2012 up 46% on last year. While new properties aren’t springing up at the rate they were a few years ago, there are openings on the horizon, particularly on the island of Koh Samui, which is scheduled to see launches from Conrad, InterContinental and Mövenpick this winter. Occupancy rates here and in Phuket are up, with the latter’s airport expecting to handle a record four million passengers this year.
Morocco and Tunisia
The unrest across North Africa has affected the tourist numbers to both these destinations, so, as with Egypt, customers may well be able to find a bargain. The Tunisian National Tourist Office has been targeting the UK with a marketing campaign showing the country is open for business once more since June, and operaters are featuring the destination in winter-sun brochures.
Temperatures are warm rather than sweltering through the winter, so this, in combination with the calm waters of the Mediterranean, make it a good option for families. In Morocco, the winter-sun market tends to head to Agadir, or winter short breaks like Marrakech. This year saw BA and BMI join Ryanair, easyJet and Royal Air Maroc in flying direct from the UK to the city, giving a whole host of options for breaks short or long. Those who want to relax as well as sightsee should consider Palmeraie, a tranquil oasis-like area with gorgeous views of the Atlas Mountains, a golf course and some great resort-style hotels, just a 20-minute drive from the city.