For the extremely wealthy, a vacation to Europe or South America just doesn’t cut it. They demand adventure and luxury that takes them to the ends of the Earth and back. As Financial Times travel editor Tom Robbins puts it, “It’s all about bragging rights. If I was at a dinner party with you and you’d say you’d been to Barbados in a lovely hotel with gold taps I’d say ‘that doesn’t really impress me much,’ but if you said you’d been to Myanmar and gone trekking with the hill tribes I might think more of that.”
Robbins joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the hottest exotic travel destinations for the 1%.
Flying into Bhutan isn’t for the faint of heart. The only international airport, Paro, is surrounded by mountains as high as 18,000 feet and is considered one of the most challenging airports to fly into and out of. It might be easy to get over the perils of the flight, however, as Bhutan created and tops the “Gross national happiness index.”
Situated in the Himalaya Mountains between China and India, Bhutan is an environmental wonderland. They also have a prevailing lifestyle that has managed to resist global cultural homogenization. Bhutan only opened its borders to foreigners in the 1970s and had a ban on television until 1999. But that doesn’t mean that their hospitality industry hasn’t quickly evolved, says Robbins.
“What people want is something with a sense of adventure but with luxury added to it and Bhutan is a perfect example of that because you’ve got this really remote Himalayan country, completely intact culturally, that only gets 50,000 foreign visitors every year,” he says [Disney world gets 50,000 visitors daily]. “The strange thing is that even though it’s incredibly remote…the hotels there are not backpacking hostels, they are some of the most lavish and well designed and expensive in the world. Rooms will often set you back at least $1000 per night.”
This Spanish paradise has gained a reputation for all-night, drug-fueled dance parties in recent years but it’s now becoming an upscale resort island, says Robbins. “The Ibiza that everyone really knows is of clubbing and what’s happened in the last few years is that it’s changed and moved upmarket. There have been a lot of very smart restaurants and hotels moving there.”
Last year Great Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron spent his summer vacation there, cementing Ibiza as a sophisticated holiday destination, says Robbins.
What once was a hippie haven now makes way for high-end “agriturismo,” expensive farmhouses that allow wealthy patrons to live a rural and simple lifestyle.
Until 2011, Myanmar (often referred to as Burma) had closed borders, locking it from the international community. Despite a history of violence and oppressive rule, Myanmar has come under new rule and has turned a new page. While it’s still not an easy country to travel into and through, its years of isolation have left it with a unique, unfettered culture. Ecotourism also abounds with 1,200 miles of uninterrupted coastline and a diverse ecosystem.
“It’s expensive to go there because there’s such demand,” says Robbins. “People want to see a country that’s been protected by their isolation…we’re seeing hotel rates that are very high and we’re seeing the launch of high-market river cruises.”
While this destination certainly doesn’t scream luxury, it’s become quite a hotspot for safari-seeking tourists. Safari’s in Zimbabwe, unlike those in big parks like Kruger, are more intimate and adventurous often led on foot and canoe. Like Bhutan and Myanmar this land-locked Southern African country has the appeal of having recently been off-limits to tourists.
The French Alps
The French Alps are most popular for cycling vacations, says Robbins, these have been becoming popular with major CEOs over the past few years.
“In the U.K. and the U.S., cycling has experienced a massive growth in popularity particularly among chief executives and those kind of alpha personalities. They’re calling it the new golf,” says Robbins. “A lot of law firms, accounting firms and corporate businesses are taking people out cycling instead of playing golf.”
The French Alps is one of the best destinations for cycling, says Robbins. “Those are the kind of hallowed roads that we’ve seen in the Tour de France…it’s the equivalent of playing tennis and Wimbledon.”