Asian Holiday Destinations Increasing in Popularity
A recent report published by the U.K. price comparison website, Compare the Market, examined how the most important travel destinations around the world had changed in popularity over the past decade. The report looked at how destination interest had changed between 2009 and 2019 based on Google search enquiries made during that period.
In terms of countries, Asian countries accounted for 8 of the 10 countries that showed the greatest increases in interest by web users looking for information on holidays in those countries.
The countries that showed the highest increases in destination interest were:
1. Philippines (+170%)
2. South Korea (+76%)
3. Saudi Arabia (+56%)
4. Kazakhstan (+47%)
5. Netherlands (+43%)
6. Taiwan (+41%)
7. Poland (+26%)
8. Bahrain (+23%)
9. Cambodia (+21%)
10. India (+13%)
The four Asian countries that made it to the top of the list are as different to each other as the four seasons. Let’s take a look what it could be about each of those countries that may have been responsible for their increase in popularity, and what they have to offer to older travellers.
The increase in interest in the Philippines as a holiday destination was far greater than for any other country in the world. Perhaps this reflects a desire to travel to more exotic destinations after travellers have visited more popular destinations in Asia such as China, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong.
The Philippines is a country made up of more than 7,000 islands, and it has some of the best beaches in the world, a tropical climate, and friendly people who speak English. It’s already a popular destination with backpackers, but will also appeal to older travellers who are watching their budget.
There are many locations in the Philippines where a beach bungalow can be rented for a week for the cost of one night in a 4-star hotel in Hong Kong. And if you are prepared to buy meat, fish, vegetables and other ingredients from the local market, and cook in your cottage, you can eat cheaper for a week in the Philippines than a day dining in Hong Kong eateries.
Aside from stretching your budget, the Philippines will appeal to those wanting to get off the beaten track and find places where they can relax and enjoy nature. Whether it’s mountain scenery, jungle trekking or hidden beaches that appeal to you, the Philippines has hundreds of locations where you can get away from the crowds.
Airbnb is now a big thing in the Philippines, and you’ll find places to rent all over the country where you can experience living with the locals and possibly not see another tourist for days. There are many festivals in the Philippines that will appeal to older travellers too.
Many first-time visitors to the Philippines say that Filipinos are friendlier to foreigners than any other nationality in Asia. Whilst it’s hard to generalise, the Philippines has long had a reputation for being a hospitable nation. The fact that Filipinos can be found working in the hospitality industry all over the world tends to reinforce that reputation.
Most of the Philippines is very safe for travel. The western half of the southern island of Mindanao has long had problems with a Muslim insurgency, so it’s recommended that travellers stay away from that region, but the rest of the country is as safe for travelling as most other countries in Asia.
Part of the reason for South Korea’s increase in popularity is undoubtedly the so-called ‘Korean Wave’ — the spread of Korean popular culture such as K-drama and K-pop throughout the world. Lonely Planet’s branding of Busan — South Korea’s second biggest city — as the best place to visit in Asia in 2018 may have helped as well.
South Korea used to be a difficult country in which to travel because so few people spoke English outside those working in the tourism industry and specifically catering for overseas visitors. However, these days most young people can speak a little English, or at least can help find you someone who is more fluent in English.
As is the situation in Japan, young people in South Korea show great respect for older persons — it’s part of their culture — so enlisting the assistance of a young person on the street in Korea is much easier done than in any western country.
The advent of smartphone translation apps and electronic voice translators means that even in places where it may be difficult to find anyone speaking English, it’s still possible to ask for directions, buy a ticket or order a meal using one of these translators.
Whilst Korean popular culture and fashion has made it a popular destination with the younger set, there’s still a lot that will appeal to older travellers. The country is known as the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’, which reflects the tranquility that can be experienced in many parts of the country.
Whilst Seoul and Busan are interesting cities to explore, it’s the rural areas of South Korea that will likely have most appeal to older travellers. Scenic mountains, unspoiled coastlines, national parks, ancient villages and UNESCO-listed heritage sites offer many opportunities to experience the tranquility of the countryside.
Cruising around the hundreds of islands that make up the Dadohaehaesang National Park at the southern end of the peninsula, hiking to the waterfalls in the spectacular Byeonsanbando National Park on the west coast, or strolling the quiet walkways of the Hahoe Folk Village near Andong in the Taebaek Mountains are just a few of the many ways to enjoy a relaxing day away from the cities.
The inclusion of Saudi Arabia in the popularity listing is the biggest surprise, because Saudi Arabia has never been known as a particularly tourist-friendly country. Alcohol is totally banned in Saudi Arabia, and that fact is enough to keep many international visitors away.
The percentage increase likely reflects the fact that Saudi Arabia only started issuing visas in 2013 to tourists who were visiting for purposes other than a religious pilgrimage. The vast majority of visitors to Saudi Arabia are Muslims performing a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Mecca is the most visited city in Saudi Arabia, but it is off-limits to non-Muslims. However, there are many other destinations within Saudi Arabia that may appeal to non-Muslim visitors with an interest in ancient history and Islamic culture.
Saudi Arabia has many museums housing a large number of rare antiquities and manuscripts, five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and numerous cultural festivals and events.
The National Museum of Saudi Arabia in the capital, Riyadh, is very different to most major museums around the world, focusing more on exhibitions and dioramic displays to educate visitors about different periods in Arabian history, rather than the display of individual items.
For those interested to just experience what Saudi Arabia was like in the more recent past, the old downtown area of Jeddah, known as Al-Balad, is worth a visit. It is has many historic buildings, busy markets and picturesque alleyways that will keep keen photographers snapping for days.
Saudi Arabia is best visited during the months from November to March. At other times of the year it is simply too hot to enjoy any outdoor activities during the day.
The inclusion of Kazakhstan on the destination interest list is a little puzzling because Kazakhstan doesn’t have a big tourism industry, but the hosting of Expo 2017 in Astana is probably the primary reason for the increase in interest.
From the lovely city of Almaty at the foot of the Trans-IIi Alatau mountain range in the south of the country, to the incredibly ultra-modern capital of Nur-Sultan in the north, Kazakhstan offers a visitation experience very different to most other Asian countries.
Almaty was the former capital of Kazakhstan and still remains the cultural hub of the country. Its wide Parisian-like boulevards make this a popular city to visit in the spring when the thousands of apple trees around the city are in bloom, against a picturesque backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
A half-day trip to the Big Almaty Lake in the Trans-lli Alatau Mountains is well worth the effort as it is one of the most picturesque lakes in Asia. It’s at an elevation of 2,500 metres but takes little more than an hour on a good road to get there from the city centre.
Almaty has many excellent restaurants serving Central Asian food, and a host of bars and pubs with live entertainment at night. For those craving some American or European food, the Chechil Pub is very popular with visitors.
The downtown of the new capital, Nur-Sultan (previously known as Astana until it was renamed in March 2019 following the resignation of the former President Nursultan Nazarbayev), is full of modern buildings and high-rises in a variety of traditional and contemporary architectural styles.
Those interested in modern architecture will find it a fascinating city to visit, but for others Nur-Sultan doesn’t have a lot to offer. Nur-Sultan is the second coldest capital city in the world, so avoiding the coldest months of November to March would be wise.
The inclusion of these four countries on the list of destinations that were registering more Google searches is encouraging because it indicates that many travellers are looking further afield than the usual Asian destinations, many of which are becoming overcrowded with tourists from mainland China.
Asia is a continent of enormous diversity — probably more so than any other continent — and the considerable differences between the Philippines, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan only serve to confirm that.
Header image: © Akesin