By Sophia Banay
Here's a resolution you won't mind making: Travel better this year. And we don't just mean buy trip insurance and pack your toothbrush.
Instead of resorting to the same, time-worn vacation spots, resolve to make 2007 a year you'll remember because you visited a tropical butterfly park in Honduras, went hot air ballooning over Namibian sand dunes or got a two-hour marine mud massage at North Island resort in the Seychelles--not because you stayed with Gramps in Palm Beach again.
According to the Washington-based Travel Industry Association of America, the international travel and tourism industry experienced strong growth in 2006, and additional expansion of 4.6% per year is expected over the next 10 years. Thanks to a stable economy, steady wage increases and the lack of any major recent terrorist attacks in popular vacation spots, Americans in particular have indulged their wanderlust. And in 2007, industry experts say the most popular trips will have one thing in common.
"The emphasis really is on experiential travel," says Misty Ewing, the director of public relations at Texas-based Virtuoso, a luxury travel network. "People are looking for more authentic experiences and ways to immerse themselves in local cultures. Now, I think that when people go on vacation, they really want to learn and know the destinations they're visiting. They want to experience it to its fullest extent."
Perhaps not surprisingly, eco-tourism is a big part of this trend. Ewing cites countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama, whose natural resources and wildlife put them front and center for American travelers in 2007. Of course, to offset the human impact of all that traffic, and preserve their rain forests and habitats, many of these countries have introduced resorts powered by sustainable energy and built with renewable resources. In Panama's northern coast, for example, the Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge was built using local materials like clay, bamboo and wild cane, and solar panels and bio-digesters, which clean waste water, are located in each of the nine cabins.
Another big destination for 2007 is Laos, where a series of new luxury hotels is making old cities attractive to a new generation of travelers. "I just came back from Laos, and I was totally surprised at the quality of the accommodations," says Pallavi Shah, founder of New York-based Our Personal Guest travel agency. "It's different and laid back--what Vietnam was." Shah visited Luang Prabang, Laos' formal royal capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995, and observed local craftswomen working in textiles, silver and wood. The accommodations in Luang Prabang, however, are surprisingly modern: Shah recommends La Résidence Phou Vao, an Orient-Express resort with views over the surrounding mountains and rivers.
Once again this year, Forbes.com has compiled a list of where we want to go in 2007--and where you should, too. We spoke to industry experts and a few of our favorite globe trotters to find out what's hot this year, from wine tasting in Argentina to dune surfing in Africa and everywhere in between. For each destination, we tell you where to go, what to do there and what a round-trip plane ticket from Manhattan will cost. (Note: Airfare reflects flights booked the second week of February from Manhattan to the country's capital and were current as of press time.)