Off to the ends of the Earth

By Jane Knight, Evening Standard

Last updated at 13:13 22 July 2002

It's official - China is the new Caribbean.

At least it is at dinner parties where fellow guests stifle a yawn at the mention of your fortnight on Antigua but listen up when you drop into the conversation that you saw the Yangtze River gorge before it was flooded, darling.

With the Costas and the Caribbean passé in terms of tourism one-upmanship, more and more of us are ferreting out the far-flung corners of the world for our next trip.

It's a trend that hasn't even begun to run its course; China received 284,000 visitors from the UK in 2000, but expects 1.5 million by 2020, according to World Tourism Organisation (WTO) projections.

There has been such a rush to see the Yangtze River gorge before a dam floods it next year that long-haul specialist Bales - which last year saw a 30 per cent increase in bookings for its China trips - sold out of many of this year's itineraries before the brochure was even printed.

It's something managing director Mandy Nickerson also attributes to improved tourism infrastructure, with restaurants no longer closing at 6pm and international-standard hotels, allowing people to be 'travellers by day, tourists by night'.

Other destinations previously regarded as inaccessible are opening up.

'The concrete carpet of tourism is unfolding across the world,' says Keith Betton of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).

In the past decade destinations such as Mexico and Thailand - previously the preserve of backpackers - have gone so mainstream that travellers looking for adventure have found the new Thailand in, first, Vietnam, and now Laos and Cambodia.

Places such as Ethiopia (to which BA started a scheduled service last autumn) now carry a high wow factor and those looking for real cutting-edge are choosing Antarctica.

What else could be expected of travellers who think nothing of going to Dubai or New York for a long weekend?

Andrea Godfrey of Regent Holidays, which prides itself on featuring unusual Baltic destinations, says: 'One recent passenger on the Trans-Siberian railway was an 85-year-old lady who insisted on travelling alone on the four-day trip from Moscow through Siberia and Mongolia to Beijing.'

Regent's clients are even ticking off destinations in a bid to join the US-based Travellers' Century Club (members must have visited 100 countries).

Holidaymakers are spurning concrete hotels to stay in Masai Mara lodges, yak tents or estancias, options increasingly appearing in brochures.

Steppes, which sells 'out-of-the-ordinary destinations', has an add-on to its Peruvian tour to stay on Taquile island in Lake Titicaca with a local family.

Exotic destination specialist Western and Oriental reports an increase in demand for staying at Ayurveda spas in India because it's where the treatments originated, while other companies are publishing a flurry of brochures dedicated to diving (the new skiing), activity holidays, wine and cultural tours and wildlife breaks.

Holidaying around special events such as the World Cup in Japan and Korea and last year's eclipse in Africa is also on the rise.

So where do the experts tip for the top next?

Lonely Planet is giving Afghanistan its vote, while major operator Kuoni will be leading the way when it introduces the Arctic in a brochure out later this year.

Whichever one appeals most, don't forget your camcorder to entertain your friends.

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