While Dubrovnik has become so overrun that it has unveiled plans to tax cruise ships, the beaches of Albania — less than a five-hour drive away — remain blissfully quiet. But perhaps not for long. The stigma around what was once the Balkans’ most dangerous country is lifting and tourist numbers were up 20 per cent this year. Newcomer music festival Kala in the coastal town of Dhërmi is what Croatia felt like before the coast got choked with beach clubs. Festival goers should soon find it easier to get there, thanks to a new airport planned for nearby Vlorë.
The underground electronic music scene in Tbilisi has already led to some dubbing it “the new Berlin”. Its graffiti-daubed warehouses converted into hipster hostels, visa-free travel for EU nationals since 2017 and last year’s legalisation of marijuana have all helped Georgia hit record visitor numbers (8.7m last year). Access is getting easier too: Ryanair is launching three new routes to the country this month and a fourth next summer; Wizz Air is adding around 60,000 seats on routes to Kutaisi next year.
No other destination has leveraged the viral power of social media as much as the tiny Faroes. A reorganisation and funding boost for the tourist board in 2012 was followed by a string of online campaigns including “sheep view”, a cutesy alternative to Google Street View with cameras strapped to the back of sheep, and “Faroe Islands translate” in which islanders translate phrases via video message. The latest stunt, in April, saw the islands “closed for maintenance” for a weekend, with volunteers invited to come to help with conservation projects. The result has been an increase in visitors (with tourist nights up 31 per cent between 2014 and 2018) — and a change in demographics. “Our visitors’ age group has certainly fallen,” says Súsanna Sørensen of Visit Faroe Islands.
Offering the chance to rave on the dried-up Aral Sea in a graveyard of rusty ships, Sithia festival, which launched last year, is the Burning Man of Central Asia. It has helped attract a very different type of visitor — as has the relaxation of visa rules and improved infrastructure that makes independent travel much easier. Skyscanner report a 97 per cent increase in searches this year compared with last; Intrepid Travel, which claims to be the world’s largest small group adventure company, says Uzbekistan sales have risen 257 per cent year on year. “It’s the fastest-growing destination of 2019,” says Aaron Hocking, Intrepid’s commercial director.
Could 2020 be Pakistan’s year? A new e-visa scheme was launched in March and British Airways resumed flights to Islamabad in June. Meanwhile visits to the country’s cultural sites rose more than threefold between 2014 and 2018. STA travel, the world’s largest travel company for students and young people, reported a 91 per cent increase in travellers this year compared with last, and adventure tour operator Wild Frontiers has recorded 40 per cent more bookings.
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