7 best holiday spots that aren't Bali
There's no denying that the Australian love affair with Bali is still going strong.
Visitor numbers are soaring and the Island of the Gods is still ticking serious boxes: gorgeous beaches, great surf breaks, vibrant culture and stunning five-star hotels.
But there are plenty of other countries to see - many of which trump Bali in attractions and natural beauty.
So, if you're stuck in a travel rut it might be time to join the Aussies expanding their travel repertoire. Read on for seven destinations to consider.
WHY: A mix of island paradises, culturally-rich cities and adventure-laden rainforests make the Philippines one of the greatest treasures in South-East Asia. Yet an underdeveloped tourism industry means that it's unspoilt compared with its neighbours.
As of February, Australia still ranked as the fifth-largest market for the country, whose 7000 tropical islands make up the second-largest archipelago in the world.
"It's a destination that has something for everyone," says the Philippines Department of Tourism's Norjamin Delos Reyes. "Our islands and beaches are the perfect spot to relax and if an adventure holiday is of interest, we deliver some the world's best surf spots and dive sites."
Located at the centre of the "coral triangle", the Philippines has some of the best diving on the planet, with more than 1200 documented species inhabiting its waters.
There's also serious surf - regarded by many as superior to Bali - and when it comes to palm-fringed, white-sand beaches, El Nido has more of them than you can shake a stick at.
Think Thailand, only with a fraction of the tourists and you're almost there. In fact, rather than the beaches in Thailand, it was El Nido's that are believed to have inspired Alex Garland's novel The Beach.
WHY: Australians (per capita) do more cruising than any other country, with more than 1.2 million of us setting sail last year. And our favourite cruising destination? New Caledonia.
Sandwiched between Australia and Fiji in the Pacific Ocean, New Caledonia ticks serious boxes for singles, couples and families. Romantic beaches, heritage and culture, world-class diving and natural wonders, it's home to the world's largest coral-reef lagoon and spectacular outlying islands.
New research from Flight Centre saw a 42 per cent rise in customers from last year and official tourism stats also reflect the love affair we're having with the South Pacific gem: "Over the last three years we have seen an increase of more than 34 per cent in visitation from Australia to New Caledonia," New Caledonia Tourism Australia director Caroline Brunel says.
Carnival Australia confirms that the numbers stack up, with more than half a million of its passengers referencing the country. "Our guests love the destination because it's an engaging mix of French and Melanesian cultures, matched with magical beaches and scenery," says Carnival Australia's vice-president of corporate affairs, Sandy Olsen.
"They could be eating a baguette in cosmopolitan Noumea one hour, then swimming or snorkelling at a pristine beach, or learning about tribal systems on the Isle of Pines,
WHY: Excellent skiing, mouth-watering food and a unique and vibrant culture - there are ample reasons to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. Australians certainly seem to think so, we've been visiting in record numbers.
The Japan National Tourism Organisation says there has been a 10 to 20 per cent rise in visitors year-on-year and a steady increase of almost 16 per cent every month of 2016. In fact, official visitor numbers showed a 34 per cent rise last year and, similarly, Flight Centre reported a jump of 18 per cent in Japan bookings last year, particularly around its ski season.
Consistent snowfall, varied runs and the largest number of ski and snowboard resorts in the world; unsurprisingly Aussies are the main travellers to Japan during its winter months. There are over 500 ski hills ranging from huge resorts to small ski hills, offering snow hounds overwhelming choice. The bullet train line from Tokyo to Hokkaido opened last year, making it easier to travel to Niseko (officially Japan's No.1 resort) for skiing.
Direct flights to Japan from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne have increased but cruising has become a bona fide way to see Japan too. One of the fastest-growing cruise destinations in the world, in the last few years passenger numbers to Japan have grown 488 per cent from 170,000 guests in 2013 to one million in 2015.
Another bonus is that a weakened yen means (according to research from the UK Post Office) that food and drinks here are often cheaper than Bali.
WHY: Between 2010 and 2014, the number of Australian visitors to the Emerald Isle surged 40 per cent. Last year, more than 200,000 Aussies and Kiwis holidayed there, which is a
17 per cent increase in arrivals.
"The good news is that this growth has continued," says Tourism Ireland Australia and New Zealand market manager Sofia Hansson.
"In recent figures, we've seen that Australian visitors are up by 9 per cent for February to April. Getting here has never been easier with Etihad, Emirates and Qatar offering one-stop flights from major Australian hubs into Dublin."
This surge in visitor numbers undoubtedly corresponds to increased flight routes, the latter of which (Qatar Airways) has just launched. Adding to Ireland's allure is a host of upcoming developments.
This year a $20 million refurbishment of Old Jameson Distillery reopened in Dublin (whiskey tourism accounts for 600,000 tourists annually), and next year the shipping company headquarters where the Titanic was built will be turned into a multimillion-dollar boutique hotel.
Not to be underestimated is Ireland's rising star as a film location, increasing its appeal to "set-jetting" movie buffs who travel to see these spots. Most recently seen in Star Wars: Episode VIII, Skellig Michael, off the coast in County Kerry, acted as Luke Skywalker's hide-out. Ireland can also lay claim to being the Game of Thrones filming capital.
WHY: Incense-filled, mystical temples, friendly, colourfully dressed hill tribes, the dramatic limestone stacks of Ha Long Bay, stunning national parks, and street food that will make your head spin - the draw this country has for travellers is immense. And now Australians have even more reason for a sojourn here.
Though known for being budget friendly, Expedia reveals a Vietnam break has never been more affordable.
"Vietnam is 25 per cent cheaper than it was a year ago," says Expedia travel expert, Lisa Perkovic. "Thanks to more affordable flight and accommodation options, it's a top value-for-money destination."
The introduction of budget-friendly routes including Jetstar's new non-stop Ho Chi Minh service from Sydney and Melbourne in May is no doubt helping. And based on flights and accommodation, Expedia has noted a 90 per cent increase in demand year-on-year for the country's capital city.
Surprisingly, Aussie families are increasingly making up the numbers. Wotif.com July school holidays data shows Vietnam on the rise as a family destination with accommodation demand for Ho Chi Minh City up
195 per cent year-on-year, while Vietnam more broadly is witnessing a 75 per cent jump over the school holidays. Correlating with this research conducted by Wotif into 2017 travel trends, this shows 69 per cent of Aussies prefer to travel further afield to experience a different culture and 44 per cent of parents with school- aged children prefer international destinations to give their kids the opportunity to see a different culture.
"There's so much for kids to see and do in Vietnam," says Wotif.com travel expert, Amanda Behre. "Hands-on foodie experiences, market tours, outdoor activities including cycling through rural villages and kayaking, alongside amusement parks and waterparks."
SRI LANKA AND THE MALDIVES
WHY: Sri Lanka's civil war only ended in 2009, so its transformation from no-go zone to "it" destination has been quick. In eight years, tourist numbers have multiplied eight-fold and, according to Sri Lanka's Tourism Development Authority, the island attracted more than two million visitors last year, an increase of 14 per cent compared with 2015.
In 2016, almost 75,000 Australians visited, which marked a 17.2 increase from the previous year and this figure is set to rise with the direct Sri Lankan Airlines flights from Melbourne to Colombo starting in October.
Blessed with pretty beaches and great surf, eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of the highest rates of biodiversity in the world, the country also has a menagerie of Asian elephants, leopards, wild buffalo, dolphins and other marine life all waiting to be spotted. Add to this a fast-growing roster of luxury hotels (in the past 12 months alone Anantara, Shangri-La and Movenpick have all opened) and it's little wonder that Sri Lanka now regularly tops the lists of "must-visit" destinations in the likes of Conde Nast Traveller and Australian Vogue.
"Booking for our 15 Sri Lanka tours is up 48 per cent compared to the previous year," says Carl Cross, managing director at tailor-made tour company, On The Go Tours. "Aside from the attraction of the beaches and cultural experiences, the popularity of safaris is a huge pull as Sri Lanka is much easier to get to and offers a better price point than traditional safari destinations."
By proxy, given the location of the Maldives in relation to Sri Lanka (just under an hour-and-a-half flight costing about $250 return), it's a highly attractive bolt on.
Pristine white-sand beaches, luxury resorts and turquoise waters; the world's overwater-villa capital is the stuff that bucket lists are made of. And Aussie visitors to the paradise archipelago have almost doubled.
Partly fuelled by easier access and partly by an increasing amount of travel snaps cluttering up Instagram feeds, the Australian market has emerged as one of the potential and fastest-growing according to tourism reports, with an 18 per cent growth for the period January to July 2016.
A posh fly-and-flop destination, last year a slew of new hotels opened, including Four Seasons Private Island Voavah and the amazing Soneva Jani. Plus, as coverage on the unpleasant realities of climate change increases, travellers are realising that - as the lowest country on Earth - rising sea levels are likely to severely affect the Maldives in the future, so, it's a case of see it now before it's too late.
WHY: Neither Trump nor the weakened Australian dollar has deterred us from visiting the US, with more than 12 per cent of all Aussies travelling internationally heading stateside. But Canada is an alternative for a North America fix.
From January to March 2017, Australian arrivals were up 23.7 per cent and Flight Centre noted an 11 per cent rise in their customer base. We're already the sixth-largest market and accelerated growth in the number of Aussie visitors parallels the ease of getting there. Air Canada recently announced more flights to Vancouver from Melbourne and are launching daily non-stop flights from Brisbane.
Given that Canada is the world's second-largest country by total area, there's plenty to explore and an endless range of things to do.
"Australians want an experience that will give them bragging rights back home," says Donna Campbell, managing director, Destination Canada GSA. "They want unique experiences, whether it's witnessing the aurora borealis while fat-biking across a frozen lake in the Northwest Territories or watching the gigantic icebergs float by in Newfoundland."
The increase in Adventure World bookings also reflects this appetite for adventure. "The major drawcard is the diversity of adventure experiences," says Adventure World managing director Neil Rodgers. "The growth in Yukon is one to note, in particularly the northern lights and polar bear viewings."
Hailed by The New York Times and Lonely Planet as their top destination for 2017, the hyperbole is timely given Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation this year.