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Sun 20 May 2007 03:28 PM

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The adventure starts here

ATN presents a quick glance at some of options available for tourists seeking adventure this summer.

Travel and adventure have always gone hand in hand, but there is a new breed of tourist demanding more from their adventure holiday than a banana boat and a ride on a camel.

Tour operators are increasingly featuring adventure-based activities in their brochures, but niche operators specialising exclusively in adventure travel are yet to emerge in the Middle East and operators often leave customers to book their own add-on tours when they reach the destination.

Serious adventure isn’t something you take lightly; it has to be done in an organised professional manner.

The only exception to this rule is the operators that specialise in African safaris.

Several large UAE-based operators like Emirates Holidays and Etihad Holidays have pre-packaged safari tours, but other smaller companies like Africa Connections, which represents game lodges and safari camps in locations across Africa are springing up in the GCC, offering tailor made itineraries including everything except flights.

Africa lends itself perfectly to soft adventure holidays where customers can mix adventure with stays in luxury in safari lodges, or hard adventures such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Asia offers everything from family-friendly adventure opportunities like white water rafting, jungle trekking or staying in a jungle lodge, to intense adventure options like climbing up to Mount Everest base camp.

Etihad Holidays' Julia Denny reminds agents that customers can break up long journeys to Australia or China with a stopover in places like Sri Lanka or Malaysia, where eco-resorts can act as a base for soft adventure excursions in the jungle.

Thailand and Malaysia are already popular destinations with GCC travellers, but adventure holiday options are yet to be properly exploited, while emerging Asian destinations like India, China and Korea are crying out for innovative operators to package organised and tailor made trips.

The new direct Emirates flight from Dubai to Brazil to be launched in October will open a portal into a new and unexplored continent for GCC travellers, while self-drive trips across the US, Australia or New Zealand are an adventure in themselves.

"Many families visiting New Zealand choose a self-drive holiday where they can easily drive through New Zealand's amazing landscape," explains Nicola Cunich, manager UAE, Tourism New Zealand.

"Every couple of hours the landscape changes dramatically from rivers, mountains and lakes to the beautiful coastal beaches and then to the geothermal areas. And remember the alpine options in the winter especially in the South," she adds.

For more off-the-beaten track adventure holidays that customers are unlikely to find in a brochure, UAE and Oman-based adventure specialist Absolute Adventures has a wide selection of fixed departures and tailor made excursions.

"Serious adventure isn't something you take lightly; it has to be done in an organised professional manner," explains managing director Paul Oliver.

As well universally friendly hiking and kayaking trips, the company offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as trekking to the Mount Everest base camp or navigating the ancient Inca Trail in Peru, the kind of adventure suited to independent travellers in their mid-thirties to late-forties, according to Oliver; those who earn above average incomes and who are therefore likely to be able to take time off work for such a trip: "The only times we would do things that could be considered a regular trip is when the destination itself is considered to be the adventure, so for instance our most popular destination right now is Yemen," he explains.

"Yemen is a very popular place and people want to go there but they don't trust going there on their own. I spend a lot of time on the ground looking for the right people and finding interesting accommodation, and that doesn't mean five-star, that means local fundaqs and guest houses, traditional stone tower houses and so on."


For die-hard thrill-seekers looking for extreme adventures, Oliver can even organise tailor made trips to places like Afghanistan if the size of the group is sufficient and the situation on the ground permits it.

For Middle East bound tourists or intra-regional travellers, dune bashing and belly dancers no longer cut it, not when other destinations have jet boating and bungy jumping to offer.

Although wadi-bashing and hiking are still considered to be soft adventure, the rugged mountains of the Mussandam Peninsular provide excellent off-road opportunities for serious adventurers, while kayaking trips through the fjords and mountain biking in the Hajjar Mountains can be tailor made to suit the requirements of individual groups, if you recommend the right company.

Australia/New Zealand

Australia

:

Tourism Australia recommends agents send Australia-bound adventure holiday seekers to destinations such as Uluru, North Queensland, or Tasmania.

Activities in Oz range from outback discovery air tours, ideal for meetings and incentives groups as well as FIT travellers, to trips to the Kimberley Region in North Western Australia, one of the world's last unspoilt frontiers.

Recommend clients explore the unique wildlife and scenery around Hobart in Tasmania, or find out more about the convicts that inhabited Oz in the early days in Port Arthur.

For something totally out of this world, send customers diving with sharks, where they can snorkel alongside Whale Sharks - the biggest fish in the sea at Ningaloo Reef. Visit
www.whalesharkdive.com

.

New Zealand

:

is crammed full of adventure tourism options from the tip of the North Island to the belly of the south.

Destination Queenstown recommends a small selection of the most popular activities for thrill seekers and adventure travellers, including the Shotover Jet; an adrenaline-inducing jet-boat ride through the Shotover River Canyons, where they skim past rocky outcrops and jet though narrow winding canyons at breakneck speed. Tours start from US $99.

New Zealand is also home to the original bungy jump; the 43-metre Kawarau Bridge Bungy. AJ Hackett Bungy operates four different jumps in Queenstown, for different levels of daredevil. Prices start from $150, including T-shirt and transportation.

For customers who want to take the adventure up to the next level, NZone tandem skydiving offers 9000-feet and 15,000-feet jumps for $245 and $395 respectively.

For a softer adventure, Dart River Safaris operates nine-hour tours, including a one and a quarter jet-boat ride up the Dart River, followed by a leisurely journey back down stream in an inflatable ‘Funyak'. Tours starts from $285, including wilderness buffet lunch, excursion to the Rock Burn Chasm and a back-road return trip to Queenstown.

South Africa

Kruger

National Park:

For customers who want the chance to see Africa's big game on foot, accompanied by trained trackers, agents should recommend a safari camp in or around the Kruger National Park.


The park has nearly two million hectares of wilderness to explore and is home to 336 types of trees, 49 kinds of fish, 34 breeds of amphibians, 114 reptile groups, 507 different bird families and 147 species of mammal.

Activities include adventure trails, game drives and multi-day backpacker trails.

At Garonga Safari Camp, guests can sleep out in a tree house deck in the middle of the bush, or relax with a holistic bush spa.

The less adventurous can enjoy the sounds of the nightlife from the comfort of a tented suite. Prices start from R1975 ($ 278) including all meals, teas, coffees, game drives, bush walks, bush baths, sleep-outs and picnics. Most drinks, including house wines, are also included. Visit
www.garonga.com

Extreme Hotels:

Devised by the founder of the Extreme Group, the world's first Extreme Hotel opened its doors in Cape Town in November 2006. The hotel would make an ideal base for active holidaymakers heading to South Africa at either end of a visit to Kruger National Park.

The property features a five-storey climbing wall on the exterior of the property; a glass wall separating the restaurant and the swimming pool, so diners can watch fellow guests swim, and lifts made from recycled shark diving cages.

Guests can take part in a range of activities including bungee jumping, shark diving or a trip in a British fighter jet. Visit
www.extremeinternational.com

.

Africa

Zambia/Zimbabwe:

both make an ideal base for trips to the Victoria Falls and the local adventure activities available in the surrounding area and along the Zambezi.

Companies like Africa Connection can arrange accommodation varying from casual riverside lodges along the Zambezi River to more luxurious hotel accommodation.

Advise clients that a typical itinerary could include white water rafting (from around US $125 for a half day), canoeing on the upper Zambezi (from $90 per day), bungee jumping, a microlite flight over the falls, and Victoria Falls Bridge tours (a guided journey under the bridge), as well as safari activities including game drives, escorted game walks, elephant-back safaris and river safaris.

Prices for a three-night package with Africa Connections at the Thorntree River Lodge, including all meals, local drinks and a scheduled activity every day (either a game drive, sunset cruise or a tour of the falls) start from AED 2595 ($707) per person, excluding flights. Additional activities mentioned above can be arranged and paid for separately. Visit
www.africaconnectiondubai.com

Kilimanjaro:

Climbing the highest mountain in Africa (5895m) is a challenge that many adventurers consider a must, and forms part of the climbing community's Seven Summits challenge.

Organised climbs usually include porters to carry all the equipment, as well as accommodation at either end of the climb. Trips can last from five to 10 days, with several days allowed for acclimatisation. No technical climbing skills are required, but ‘Kili' is considered to be a challenging climb. Absolute Adventures has one departure this year on August 10, starting from US $1965, excluding flights to Tanzania.


The Americas

Brazil

:

Emirates' direct flight from Dubai to Sao Paulo will open up a world of opportunity for tour operators.

Suggest clients visit the Iguaçu falls on the border where Brazil meets Argentina and Paraguay, 270 waterfalls stretched along a 2.7km lip on the Iguaçu River that thunder into the rainforest basin below, or a trip to the Pantanal flood plains where visitors can see the widest selection of wildlife in the Amazon, including anacondas, toucans, alligators, sloths and spider monkeys up close and personal. Emirates Holidays package prices are yet to be revealed.

US

:

Fly-drive holidays give customers the freedom to create their own adventure as they move around their country of choice, but remind them to go with a recognised tour operator.

Emirates Holidays' 12-night ‘Highlights of the West' self-drive tour takes customers on a journey from San Francisco to Yosemite, Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Tusayan and Pismo Beach, with accommodation in each along the way. The package includes a Ford Focus or similar vehicle for the customer's use throughout the trip.

Luxury

Djibouti

:

Keminski's new Djibouti Palace is promoting a four-night soft adventure break to attract guests to the hotel.

The itinerary includes private flights over the white salt glaciers of Lake Assal and an isolated brunch on the shores of Lake Abhe, where diners can observe hundreds of pink flamingos, and sulphur stacks spewing noxious gases; a scenic drive into surrounding canyons and the Grand Barra Desert; picnic in the crater of Ocean Volcano followed by trekking around the volcano; a visit to the cheetah and leopard reserve; sunset dinner under the stars with an accompanying piano concert; island hopping on a private yacht and nightly stargazing. Deep-sea fishing and scuba diving are available for an additional fee. Visit
www.kempinski-djibouti.com

Egypt

:

Thousands of tourists flock to the Egyptian coast every year to explore the underwater world of the Red Sea. Customers who want to experience the adventure of diving or snorkeling but avoid bumping into hoards of package tourists from Europe should head to one of Sharm's five-star hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Sharm el Sheikh, which has its own isolated dive beach and dive center. Accommodation in a deluxe suite is priced from US $330 per night. Families save 50% on the price of a second room.

Asia

Nepal

:

A trek to the Mount Everest base camp in the Himalayas is strictly for customers of above average physical condition who want to do something extremely active and are willing to put in the time and effort to prepare.

The camp is situated at 5340 metres above sea level, meaning there is a risk of customers developing altitude sickness. Agents should only book through certified operators who can provide full trip dossier and details of safety equipment.

Absolute Adventure offers fixed annual departures through certified partner agencies in Nepal. Itineraries tend to run for 18 days, and include acclimatisation and recovery periods.

Prices for a typical trip will start from US $1370, including pre-departure briefings, full trip dossier, all equipment, professional guides, accommodation, meals and transfers.

Colombo

:

Eco-resorts around Colombo can provide a good base for weekend soft adventure trips en-route to other destinations such as India or Malaysia. Around three-and-a-half hours from Colombo, the Heritance Kandalama resort is an eco-focused property from where guests can go elephant trekking, white water rafting, or on a jeep safari.


Middle East

Oman

:

Although it is still considered to be soft adventure, wadi bashing and mountain trekking in Oman is a little more adventurous than in the UAE or Qatar where one-size-fits-all desert safaris remain the norm.

The rugged mountains of the Mussandam Peninsular can provide excellent off-road opportunities for serious adventurers, while kayaking trips through the fjords and mountain biking in the Hajjar Mountains can be tailor-made to suit the needs of individual groups.

Absolute Adventures has its own adventure centre in Dibba, located on the Omani stretch of the Indian Ocean-facing beach that runs the length of the UAE's East Coast.

The traditional Arabic house can be rented out by groups of up to 14 people for overnight accommodation if they plan to spend several days exploring the region, or larger incentives groups who want to use the facilities as a base for a day's team building activities or evening function.

Other activities include mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, 4x4 safaris and sand boarding.

Yemen

:

For a more authentic taste of the Middle East, clients might like to pass down a road less travelled and visit Yemen.

The ancient buildings of the old town in the capital, Sana'a, are known as the Manhattan of the Middle East; the six storey mud brick apartment buildings resemble a more makeshift version of New York's skyline.

Outside of the capital, clients can explore some of the hilltop villages of the Haraz Mountains.

Because it is not a popular leisure destination, few operators organises package tours to Yemen, but specialist operators like Absolute Adventures can put together tailor made itineraries according to clients' needs.

Afghanistan

:

Customers looking for a unique off-the-beaten-track adventure might consider going on a custom made trip to a destination that is considered to be an adventure in itself, like Afghanistan.

Absolute Adventures can organise trips where guests can see some of the less troubled regions and experience life in an Afghani Village. The company works with local guides and accommodation owners and ensures it gives back to the communities is visits, ensuring that customers are greeted warmly every time. Visit
www.adventure.ae

for more information.

The sales pitch

Emirates Holidays

Nairobi:

a six-night ‘Out of Africa' safari, including economy class airfare, Dubai/Nairobi/Dubai, one night's accommodation in Nairobi at a four-star hotel with American breakfast, five nights' accommodation on safari in four-star tented camps and/or lodges on full-board basis, transfers airport/hotel/airport on seat-in-coach basis on the specified dates, schedule flight Nairobi/Samburu/Nairobi, road transfer to Lake Naivasha, schedule flight Loldia/Masai Mara/Nairobi, game drives as per itinerary in the brochure on seat-in-minibus basis, park entrance fees, room tax and service charges is priced from AED 12,525 ($3410) per person. Departs any day.

The US:

The ‘Highlights of the West' 12-night US package including economy class airfare Dubai/New York (John F Kennedy)/San Francisco/New York (John F Kennedy)/Dubai, three nights' accommodation in San Francisco, one night's accommodation in Yosemite, Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Tusayan and Pismo Beach, two nights accommodation in Los Angeles and Las Vegas on room-only basis, 13 days rental of a self-drive compact category car (Ford Focus 2.0 Auto A/C or similar) with unlimited kilometres, loss damage waiver, tax and surcharge is priced from AED10,441 ($2843) per person.

Etihad Holidays

Sri Lanka:


prices for a two-night package in the five-star Heritance Kandalama, including return transfers from Colombo Airport (around three and a half hours) starts from AED 870 ($237) per person, excluding flights. Etihad Holidays recommends that agents suggest the package as a stopover en route to India or Malaysia.

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