VIRTUOSO LIFE magazine (a promo for clients of some 330 travel agencies in its "network") turned to its "expert travel advisors" (that would be themselves) to get the inside scoop on where those "in the know" will be venturing this year. Among the top destinations:
The Pitch: “Travelers looking for exotic, yet affordable locations will find the ideal destination in Southeast Asia. Bordering countries, Thailand and Laos, offer startling contrasts from mountainous regions with hill-tribes, little towns with lively markets, to densely populated cities such as Bangkok.”
Reality Check: Bangkok has acquired the nickname, "Sin City of Asia" as a major destination in the sex industry. Although prostitution in Thailand is technically illegal, it can be found all over Bangkok in vast numbers of massage parlors, saunas, parks, and hourly hotels, serving foreign tourists as well as locals. The red-light districts of Thai cities are home to Chinese-owned brothels, casinos, and entertainment facilities that function both as sources of income and as operations centers for trafficking in humans, narcotics and extortion. Child sex tourism is a serious problem in the country. Thailand, along with Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico, has been identified as one of the leading hotspots of child sexual exploitation. Pedophiles in particular exploit the lax laws of the country and attempt to find cover to avoid prosecution.
REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The Pitch: “Split almost directly in half by the Equator, the French-speaking Republic of Congo sits in the western region of central Africa. The country’s consistent temperate climate and heavy rainfall allows for heavily forested regions with large populations of gorillas.”
Reality Check: Many Pygmies in Congo live as slaves to Bantu masters, with the nation deeply stratified between these two major ethnic groups. Even though the Pygmies are responsible for much of the hunting, fishing and manual labor in jungle villages, Pygmies and Bantus alike say Pygmies are often paid at the master's whim: in cigarettes, used clothing, or even nothing at all. A large proportion of the population is undernourished.
The Pitch: “From the regal coffee plantations, dense jungles, snow-capped mountains and gorgeous beaches to the bustling capital, Bogotá, the country offers a wide variety of landscapes. Colombians share a deep pride in their country and are not afraid to show its visitors a good time.”
Reality Check: Emerging in the late 1970s, powerful and violent Medellín and Cali drug cartels further developed during the 1980s and 1990s, exerting political, economic and social influence in Colombia during this period. These cartels also financed and influenced different illegal armed groups throughout the political spectrum. After offensives supported by aid from the United States, many security indicators improved. However, this improvement has been criticized for the Colombian Army's continued violations of humans rights and also questionable statistics. The rate of reported abductions declined steadily for almost a decade until 2010, when 280 cases were reported between January and October, most concentrated in the Medellín area. While rural areas and jungles remained dangerous, the overall reduction of violence led to the growth of internal travel and tourism.
The Pitch: “The largest country in South America offers travelers a wonderful array of sites from deep Amazon jungle to samba-dancing seaside cities. Brazil’s sunny beaches, culinary scene and nightlife culture are among the best in the world.”
Reality Check: Brazil continues to have high crime rates, despite recent improvements. More than 500,000 people were killed by firearms in Brazil between 1979 and 2003, according to a report by the United Nations. In 2010, there were 473,600 people incarcerated in Brazilian prisons and jails.
The Pitch: “Located on the other side of the world, and then a two-hour flight from Sydney, Tasmania offers wild and dramatic landscapes for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure-seekers. Because of its remoteness and the currents that flow from the Southern Ocean, the island has some of the planet’s most pristine coastal and inland waters.”
Reality Check: The early settlers were mostly convicts and their military guards living in convict-based settlements and prisons, such as the particularly harsh penal colonies at Port Arthur in the southeast and Macquarie Harbor on the West Coast. In the 50 years from 1803 to 1853 around 75,000 convicts were transported to Tasmania. For a hair-raising history of this period, check out Robert Hughes' “The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding.”
The Pitch: “Although it is a small country – about the size of the state of Indiana – Jordan is a destination with much variety. It is a land of great beauty and even greater history, where medieval castles meet ancient ruins amongst a landscape of rolling hills, expansive deserts and dramatic mountains. “
Reality Check: It shares borders with Syria, Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Keep your bags packed.