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Value-Holidays: Money Spent = Value Earned

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The line ‘travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer’ is just apt as we explore some interesting destinations for the summer break. Travel Bulletin Middle East (TBME) explored the tried and tested; the emerging; the new hot spots and brought to you some destinations that could be on your bucket list for this summer. Every destination is unique but it is how a country is explored that makes a different holiday. We have also touched upon some statistics from Online Travel Companies on travelling patters for the summer…. In a nutshell, get your bags ready to go…

Georgia

Georgia is undoubtedly the much-talked about destination. The country offers its visitors a range of activities from adventure tourism to discovering the art of wine-making, or even the least expensive heli-skiing in Europe. Get a chance to explore medieval architecture, ancient subterranean cave cities and beach resorts. Visitors can enjoy the four seasons of the country.

The best time to visit is from mid-May to early July, and then early September to mid-October, when it is generally warm. The most visited cities in the country are Tbilisi, the ancient capital city that spreads out on both banks of the Mtkvari River, and is surrounded on three sides by mountains. The other cities to explore are Kazbegi. The Kazbegi National Park has the Kazbegi Mountain (or Mkinvartsveri) which is the third highest mountain in Georgia. Kazbegi is also a great place for ice climbing and mountaineering.

Wine has been produced in Georgia for over 8,000 years. Today, over 500 varieties of grapes are grown throughout the country and Georgian wines are famous for their unique properties and character. Furthermore, the Georgian way of winemaking – in clay pots called Qvevri – is on UNESCO’s list of cultural heritage of humanity

The destination is well connected globally with up to 39 direct flights to various destinations and over 31 airlines operating in the country from three international airports – Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi. From the UAE, it is well-connected with flydubai and Air Arabia. Both airlines are planning on launching services to Batumi, a sea side destination in summer.

The country has a visa-free regime with neither nationals nor residents need a visa to enter Georgia. There is also an e-visa facility available. This makes the country very accessible as a tourist destination. Within the GCC, UAE and Saudi Arabia are two important markets for Georgia. As per statistics, Saudi Arabia had a 116% growth in 2016; with numbers from KSA touching 37,000 visitors. Dubai has a double digit growth.

The country has many restaurants that provide halal food on request as well as halal-hotels. Tour companies also provide women drivers if needed. Arabic speaking guides are available.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is one the largest countries in the Caucasus region of Eurasia and is certainly one of the hot spots for a holiday. The destination offers tourists everything from culture, history and religious diversity, natural scenery, varied foods making it an ideal summer getaway from the Middle East.

It is interesting to note that nine out of 11 world climatic zones are found in Azerbaijan. During summer in the Middle East, the country’s temperatures range from 22 and 28 degrees Celsius. It also has a locational advantage with just a three hour flight from Dubai. The visa procurement is hassle-free as nationals from UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, can get their visas on arrival. Other nationalities can apply for Visas online in advance of travel, and get them stamped on arrival at the airport.

Azerbaijan borders the Caspian Sea – the largest lake in the World. The Azerbaijani coastline extends over 800km making it a great beach destination with beach clubs in Baku. The capital is an attraction in itself with unique architecture, landscape design, shadowy alleys, cafes, and many amusement arcades for children and adults. Baku City offers a contemporary European feel coupled with archaic imprints of bygone eras.

The country is very rich in culture with around 7,000 UNESCO listed sites. Middle East travellers can get some healing properties with the unique medical spa therapy (Naftalan oil has unique healing qualities having no analogue in the world), mud volcanoes (More than 350 out of the 800 mud volcanoes in the world are found in Azerbaijan).

Some of the activities that can be explored are fishing and hunting for adventure enthusiasts in Shahdag, Guba and Gabala. The country also offers eight national parks for activities such as Golfing, biking, running and hiking. The kids can engage in biking, bouncy castles and other fun summer activities, too.

The food in Azerbaijan is 100% halal: Meat and poultry features prominently in all the food preparations such as kebabs and minced meat, pancakes, soups and bread form a major part of the daily Azerbaijani cuisine. Apples, cherries, grapes, melons, raspberries, plums and peaches are the prominent fruits grown here while sweet black tea or Azerbaijani sherbet is a very popular drink.

Singapore  

Singapore remains an attractive holiday destination in Southeast Asia with its constantly rejuvenated offerings. One of the key attractions is the ‘Gardens by the Bay’ which turns five in 2017. There are special celebrations to mark this milestone year. The Supertree Grove comes alive with a line-up of activities, including the Gardens Extravaganza Special where aerial performers don dances with performances against a dramatic backdrop of video mapping on the towering Supertrees. Visitors can enjoy discounts of up to 15% when they purchase tickets to the Conservatories from the Gardens by the Bay website during the celebratory period.

The destination is one of the favourites for Arab families because of our renowned reputation as a shopping haven and wide range of family friendly attractions, all within easy access. Singapore has a lot to offer a visitor and all at great value. You may pay a little bit more but the overall value in terms of quality of service and experience is high. The destination provides exceptional quality experiences. In one destination, you find something for everyone and that is a great value family holiday.

Maldives

The Maldives is known for the one island one resort concept. The destination also offers the largest sea plane operations thereby offering tourists photo flights.

Among the many new offerings are several new resorts such as the Hurawalhi Island Resort, in Lhaviyani Atoll, which features an undersea restaurant, a Champagne pavilion, spa, and a collection of 90 villas on a lagoon. The LUX South Ari Atoll, on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu offers a pop-up cinema on the beach to a choice of seven restaurants. Then you have the LUX Me Spa with 11 garden and four over-water treatment villas.

Travellers to Maldives should not miss the Hanifaru Bay which is a major highlight for tourists to experience the manta rays, sharks and whale sharks. It is one of the very few places in the world where whale sharks congregate to mate. The destination is well connected with Etihad offering a total of seven services during a regular period and four additional weekly flights for the summer period between 1 July and 17 September 2017.

Austria

Austria is very well-recognised among Middle East travellers. The destination is commonly visited for its two very special experiences – stunning nature with snow-capped mountain tops, green hills and lakes and rivers with crystal-clear water on one hand, and the romantic historic city centres of Salzburg, Vienna (both declared UNESCO world cultural heritage) and Innsbruck on the other. Both can be easily combined within a one hour ride/drive.

The country has seen major developments for luxury shopping like the Golden Quarter in Vienna, where one can shop in top luxury stores in a UNESCO world cultural heritage area in Vienna’s city centre. This is exactly like the Royals used to do 100 years ago. Also, the Swarovski Crystal World close to Innsbruck has recently been re-launched with new attractions and a whole new outdoor area. This caters for families with young kids.

Austria is best known for its three top destinations – Vienna, Salzburg, the city of music and Zell am See due to its beautiful landscape of a lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Innsbruck, the capital of the Alps is also picking up in terms of Arabic tourists. Another destination that should be highlighted is Gastein Valley – a valley that consists of three towns and is known for its relaxing and well-being areas. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road is a perfect destination for an excursion. On the mountain road you will find several stops next to the road like museums, restaurants, viewing platforms and wildlife e.g. marmots or Capricorns.

Jordan

Jordan is home to a plethora of historic attractions, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra and the Dead Sea. There is abundant history with Jordan with right from Petra to the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum and Aqaba. There are several tours one can opt for right from the classical to Biblical and even eco-tours. The destination caters to health enthusiast with walking tours provided by select tour operators.

The destination has a moderate climate all year round. It is also easy to get around the destination as Arabic is the official language, but, English is also widely spoken. The destination is not exactly a value-holiday as in most terms it is on the higher side. However, the deep history and culture certainly make it a destination worth visiting at least once in your life time

Wadi Rum a UNESCO World Heritage site caters to adventure enthusiasts with its maze of monolithic rockscapes that rise up from the desert floor to heights creating a natural challenge for serious mountaineers. Hikers can explore the canyons and water holes to discover 4000-year-old rock drawings. A must check out is a trip to Burdah Rock Bridge, the highest in Wadi Rum, via the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The Dead Sea is a natural living miracle with unusually warm, buoyant and mineral-rich waters. If you are planning to combine a visit to the Dead Sea with a diving trip to Aqaba during your stay in Jordan, do the Dead Sea experience first.

Tourism numbers to the Kingdom in the first five months of 2017 increased by 10.5%, compared to 2016. A total of 2.6 million tourists visited Jordan until the end of May 2017, compared with 1.864 million visitors in 2016. The total number of overnight tourists witnessed an 11.5% hike, reaching 1.663 million, up from 1.491 million.

It was also noted that Petra visitors increased by 42.4%, with the figure going up from 185,000 to 263,000 in the first five months of 2017. While Madaba visitors increased by 54.9%, as number of tourists rose from 61,000 in the January-May of 2016 to 94,000 in first five months of 2017.

Kenya

Kenya is very difficult to describe in words. The beauty of the destination is how words describe in the ‘eye of the beholder’. Once you land in the forest reserves, the country so dismisses perceived perceptions. Travellers can find everything that fits the bill of a tourist destination – pristine beaches, mountain, abundant culture and most of all, the unparalleled safaris. An experience of a lifetime. One also cannot miss the birdlife in the country.

One of the key highlights of Kenya is none other than Maasai Mara, known for the best reserves in the country. The Maasai Mara National Reserve is an area of preserved savannah wilderness in south western Kenya, along the Tanzanian border. The animals include lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras and hippos.

The Great Migration that takes place in July – August showcases the abundance of zebras and wildebeests coupled with the larger predators. A visit to the Maasai village take you back in time and into a different world. It is an ideal destination that fits the concept of experiential tourism in all aspects. The Lake Nakuru showcases the finest bird sanctuaries. Mount Kenya is a beautiful sight of ice-capped mountains and rich flora and fauna.

Kenya is well connected from Dubai with Emirates and Kenya Airways. The destination is just over a five hour flight and is perfect for families, couple or even millennial looking for that special experience.

Armenia

Armenia is being known as a ‘hot favourite’ for many GCC travellers. The destination is stepped in history and culture yet had a good blend of traditional and modern. The country is recognised for its historical links to the Bible – known for the peak of Mount Ararat – considered holy by locals cause it is where Noah’s Ark landed.

Yerevan being the capital is the much visited place. Something worth visiting apart from the regular sights is the Vernissage flea market which is open at the weekend and a walk through the Hrazdan gorge. Better known as the City of Cafes, one can also find Blue Mosque, which is the only mosque in the country. The next is Lake Sevan, which is the country’s largest lake with some amazing monasteries. For the eco-friendly tourist, the country offers four national parks and the most visited is the Dilijan national park due to its medicinal mineral water springs.

The much-talked about Mount Aragats is a natural sights with a dormant volcano. It is Armenia’s highest peak. Snow covers the peak almost all year-round but the best time to climb Mount Aragats is around July, August and September.

Recent reports state that Armenian government is looking to carry out a string of measures to bring to the country at least three million tourists a year in a few years. According to official data, the number of tourists visiting Armenia in the first quarter of 2017 surged by 18% year-on-year to 300 thousand. In 2016, the number of visits to Armenia reached almost 2.9 million, of which 1.26 million were tourist visits, by 5.7% more than in 2015.

India

The land of wonder, mystery, abundant history and culture is what best describes the country – which is aptly named – Incredible India.

There is so much to explore across 29 states and seven Union Territories. The country caters to every kind of tourist from sights and sounds to adventure, medical, beaches, mountains, eco-trails, culinary tours, festivals and the list is endless. There is something for everyone be it a budget traveller, families, honeymooners, corporate, millennial or even senior citizens. You have it all and even more from five-star hotels, palaces and uber luxury to the serviced apartments or even lower.

India is best explored through its circuits be it the Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur or southern circuit – Bangalore, Mysore, Ooty or even the Seven Sisters of North East India. Today, the tourism ministry is looking to explore the circuits even further with unique themes such as the Buddhist circuit, Himalayan circuit, coastal circuit, Krishna circuit, Desert circuit, Tribal circuit, Eco circuit, wildlife circuit, rural circuit, spiritual Circuit, Ramayana circuit and heritage circuit.

The government is keen to highlight the spiritual side of the country and focus more on wellness too. The usual spiritual circuit — Varanasi, Mathura and Ajmer — will now include Ayodhya, the birth place of Lord Ram and the Ram temple-Babri Masjid site, apart from far flung monasteries in Lahaul Spiti. Another new trend is yoga tourism both the form of treatments and tourism.

If one has to start, India boasts 80 national parks and 441 sanctuaries with some of the popular ones being Corbett, Rajaji and Dudhwa (Uttar Pradesh), Kanha, Pench (Madhya Pradesh) and Sasan Gir (Gujarat). Spiritually India abounds in so many religious diversities from the gilded gurudwaras in Amritsar, cathedrals in Goa, ‘dargahs’ of Muslim saints and grand temples to the innumerable Hindu deities. Some of the religious destinations are Ajmer, Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri, Varanasi, Madurai, Sarnath, Gaya, Orchha, Tanjore, Trichy, Tirupati, Mathura, Ayodhya, Jammu, Badrinath, Haridwara and Rishikesh. For the more rustic, you have the ruins of forts, palaces, picturesque ‘havelis’ and mausoleums. Some of the important sites are Hampi, Khajuraho, Mandu, Aurangabad, Bikaner, Goa, Gwalior, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Mahabalipuram, Tanjore and Mysore.

For the adventure enthusiast, you have the world’s highest mountains form a tall 2500 km long wall along India’s northeast frontier and are prime climbing territory. The mountainous regions of Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Leh are high altitude trekking options. The ‘blue mountains’ of the Nilgiri Hills and lower reaches of the Himalayas in Garhwal, Kumaon and around Darjeeling are ideal for a leisurely hike.

India is without doubt a land of wonder and mystery, the more you explore, the better it gets.

Seychelles

Seychelles is a picture-perfect in every aspect for its most beautiful beaches in the world. Visitors to the destination can indulge in rejuvenating spas, island hopping to diving, bird- watching, sailing and snorkelling.

Some of the unique attractions in the destination is the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the only naturally flourishing coco de mer palm trees. Mahé Island offers the best deep-water diving anywhere. One can swim with massive tropical fish as well as spot white tip reef sharks and gray stingrays. Le Jardin Du Roi Spice Garden is situated on the hilly terrain above Anse Royale beach on Mahé’s southeast coast. This old spice garden is steeped in the aromas of vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and a variety of other spices. Finally, the Currieuse Marine National Park located off the northern coast of Praslin, this nearly two -square-mile island acts as a giant free-range zoo dominated by national heavyweight — the Seychellois tortoise. As one of the largest types of tortoise on the planet, these giants clock in at 300 to 600 pounds. Curieuse Marine National Park also features numerous hiking trails and remains of a former leper colony that now acts as a museum and historic site.

Seychelles is being packaged as value holiday by catering to needs of travellers of all age groups and also by extending services to different travel purposes ranging from business to leisure. The destination is well connected with Emirates, Etihad and Air Seychelles flying from the region.

SriLanka

Sri Lanka is another hot favourite as a value destination due to its varied offerings –from beaches to coastal resort experiences, soft adventure sports, diving experiences, jungle treks, hikes and elephant-riding, rock-climbing adventures, Ayurveda and the list goes on. The destination is worth a visit for not just its flora and fauna but the animals too – mammals (elephants, leopards and wild buffalos) and whale and dolphin watching.

The capital city like any other offers a blend of the traditional with modern, and Colombo is no different. Visitors get a colonial-style experience which is unmatched coupled with its Tea Trails –a guided tour of tea plantations, working tea farms with historic tales of hardship and prosperity, as well as warm hospitality.

Despite its small size the country boasts of one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world. Nearly 16% of animals and 23% of plants that are found in this small island are endemic to country. Yet the rarest mammals of Sri Lanka are the red slender Loris, Toque Macaque, and Purple-faced Langur.

Sri Lanka with its nearly 3000 years of history has some of the world’s ancient cities including Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Digamadulla. History is etched in its palaces, temples, monasteries, hospitals and theatres.

The southern beaches such as Tangalla, Beruwala, Mirissa, Bentota and Unawatuna are pristine coupled with options of boutique hotels, glowing coral reefs and undiscovered corners of paradise.

Interestingly, North of Sri Lanka is a world apart from the rest of country. The region had always been closer to southern India than and was repeatedly settled and invaded by Tamil migrants from southern India and has retained a unique character and culture, one which owes as much to Hindu India as to Buddhist Sri Lanka.

Germany – Baden Baden / Hamburg

Germany is not just known for its historical links but is steeped in culture and nature. We look at two destination are quite different from the regular hot spots of Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt etc. The city of Hamburg is known for water to dominate its landscape with its vast abundance of green areas and countless canals.

One of the key attractions of the city is the Hamburg harbour which is visited by around 180 cruise ships a year. The Elbphilharmonie is a new attraction which boasts three new concert halls, a hotel and viewing platform PLAZA providing a 360 degree view over the city. One certainly cannot miss the Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway system featuring over 13km of railway tracks in a 1,300 sq m space within the warehouse district. The city caters well for families with its Hansa Park and Heide-Park Soltau which feature rollercoasters and carousels for every age.

The other spotlight is Baden-Baden, the 2,000 year old spa city is located in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in south-western Germany. The town lies at the north-western border of the Black Forest mountain range on the small river. The capital of Baden-Wuerttemberg state is Stuttgart and has its own airport. The World Spa in the Black Forest was discovered 2,000 years ago by the Romans (The ruins can still be visited below the ‘Friedrichsbad’ which houses the Roman Irish bath), who unearthed the healing powers of 12 springs and built the first thermal baths. The destination also showcases many spa hotels. Visitors can also get a glimpse of the rich culture with the Festspielhaus, Europe’s second-largest concert hall and opera house, as well as the museums of the Cultural Mile.