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Top destinations for Irish travellers in 2024: The experts give their opinions

People have finally regained their long-haul wanderlust with many off-the-beaten-track destinations on tourist bucket lists

Group travel, authentic experiences and bucket-list trips are on Irish holidaymakers’ radar for 2024, say travel experts.

After a turbulent few years for the global tourism industry, travel operators are observing an upsurge in long-haul bookings as people’s sense of adventure returns post-Covid.

According to Claire Doherty, product director with Travel Department, which offers group tours, long-haul bookings for 2024 are already way up on previous years, with Vietnam, South Africa and the United States proving popular hotspots.

“We are talking bucket-list, big-ticket destinations,” she says. “After Covid, people were keen to go on holidays again but perhaps aren’t quite ready for long haul. And some of the long-haul destinations weren’t ready – Japan wasn’t even fully open until earlier this year.”


And demand remains high even as prices soar thanks to inflation, Doherty notes, adding that Black Friday sales saw people booking 2024 trips earlier. “Prices are high – there are no two ways about it – and they are only going to get higher.”

The extreme heatwaves of summer 2023 that saw popular Europe holiday spots such as Spain and Greece bake in record temperatures will not dampen travellers’ enthusiasm for these countries, Doherty says. She believes “peak season” may now begin to stretch out, as more people choose to travel in the slightly cooler months of May and September. Travel Department has already reduced the number of holidays they organise to those destinations in the peak summer months of July and August. “Spain and Greece in July and August will see a different summer next year after two summers of consecutive heatwaves and I also think northern Europe will become more popular, and we are seeing big demand for our European river cruises next year.”

Egypt is a hugely popular destination for Travel Department’s customers, who see the pyramids as one of the ultimate bucket list experiences. “Even though events in the region have meant it slowed down a little recently, it is still a big draw for our customers.”

Sabrina Mahony, specialist product manager with TD Active Holidays, says they are seeing a huge amount of interest in their “Explore Vietnam” holidays. “Vietnam offers a perfect blend of stunning natural landscapes, rich history and diverse culture, and year-round warm temperatures with a very strong developed tourism infrastructure,” she says. “Customers want to cruise overnight on Halong bay, cycle through the countryside in Hoi An and visit the floating markets of the Mekong delta.”

Mahony agrees that in future years there will be more travelling in the “shoulder” seasons of April, September and October when the temperatures are lower but still warmer than Ireland. “I expect that over the next few years people will start to realise the benefits of travelling in spring and autumn, namely that destinations are normally less busy during this time and the hotel and airport prices are lower, and we will see an extension of the traditional tourism season beyond April-September and see it stretch further even into March and November.”

According to Brendan Breen, managing director of Oroko Travel, people have finally regained their long-haul wanderlust after being grounded by the pandemic. “In 2022 we saw a huge bias towards travel to Europe – some 85 per cent – while in 2023 it was more 50/50. Next year, long-haul travel will represent the majority of our bookings,” he says.

He agrees that bucket-list trips are on the rise and will be big business in 2024. Japan, in particular, is “almost booked out” for next year, says Breen. “There are very limited hotel rooms and almost no English-speaking guides. We offer a very nice package with super English-speaking guides but they are like hens’ teeth over there because so many left the tourism industry during the pandemic and also because English language skills are highly prized in many industries.”

Breen says Oroko agents are also observing “a massive trend” towards family adventure-type holidays, to destinations that combine “culture, wildlife and food”, such as Costa Rica, South Africa, Zanzibar and Cambodia. “We see a huge demand for families, with particularly teenage children wanting to do a big trip like that and head away for a few weeks.

Australia and New Zealand, off limits for the entire pandemic, are now firmly back on the cards for those keen to visit family and also explore down under. “We see some of our older couples really keen to get back to Australia because they have got adult children living there,” says Breen. “They are combining the family visit with a two-week holiday around Australia, maybe taking in the Great Ocean Road and some of the other cities.”

Caroline Quigley from Keith Prowse Travel, which looks after theatre, opera, concerts and theme parks, says Ireland’s accessibility to Europe means the classic city-break destinations of Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Barcelona and Madrid will remain as popular as ever for short breaks. “Italy remains as popular as ever but can be expensive, and the Verona Opera Festival is very popular but it takes place in the summer months, which some people may now want to avoid.”

London is still their biggest destination, however. “We have seen a massive boom in London for our theatre breaks programme,” Quigley says. “London gets popular when the London theatre scene is vibrant and it is very vibrant at the moment with lots of new shows opening next year.” These include Plaza Suite, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick, which is proving a big draw, while MJ the Musical, featuring the music of Michael Jackson, is opening in early March and attracting lots of interest.

Off the beaten track

Maybe a “fly and flop” holiday is your worst nightmare, or you’re keen to broaden your horizons, literally and figuratively. Where are the more unusual destinations Irish travellers are eager to explore next year?

Sabrina Mahony of TD Active says she has observed a growing desire by people to experience something different and away from the mainstream destinations. “These destinations are seen as more authentic and an opportunity to immerse yourself into a new culture less affected by mass tourism and more ‘unspoilt’,” she says. “A group holiday is a great opportunity for those who are a bit nervous to travel somewhere a bit different, or are travelling on their own and want the security of a group around them.”

TD Active is now bringing groups to less obvious places such as Albania, Bosnia, Morocco or Patagonia, Nepal and Laos further afield to cater for this business. “In addition, our walking holidays to off-the-beaten-track destinations such as the mountains of Slovenia, the island of Croatia and Madeira’s levadas are continuing to be popular, while our yoga holidays continue to provide a break away for those customers who are looking to take some time out for themselves and enjoy some self care,” Mahony adds.

If funds are no barrier, what about a jaunt around Antarctica? Although it is the most expensive holiday they sell, Brendan Breen of Oroko Travel says it is increasingly on people’s radar as one of the ultimate bucket-list destinations.

“A typical holiday incorporating a trip to Buenos Aires and a nine-day cruise and maybe a stopover in Chile costs in the region of 20k per person,” he says. “It is expensive, for sure – but doable for two people. We see it appealing to people with grown children and more disposable income.” He notes that far from the basic trips of yesteryear, the Antarctica jaunts now on offer are of a very high standard. “They have excellent food and wine, and a whole plethora of experts on board to discuss the geography and the wildlife. There are expeditions every day, landing on the continent itself and going to the beauty spots as well as seeing the penguins.”

South Africa remains popular for those seeking the thrills of safari but Botswana is now on the up as a safari destination. “Botswana is for the more seasoned safari experts,” Breen says. “It is pristine, just beautiful. It is twice the size of France but less than two million people live there and it is the best country in the world to go on safari. The entire model is built on attracting luxury high-end tourists so they can effectively fund the conservation of the wildlife areas.”

Trips to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands are also on people’s bucket lists, Breen adds. “Ecuador is just beautiful and some people have just always wanted to go to the Galápagos. They can even combine it with a trip into the Amazon jungle, which is just spectacular.”

Caroline Quigley of Keith Prowse notes that flight availability will guide their offerings. “For 2024 we are trying to broaden out our city-break programme and bring in destinations that people might not think of,” she says. One of these is Marrakesh. With a four-hour flight time, it is perfect for a four-night stay, says Quigley.

“We are trying to get away from the perception of it as a place you go for your two-week sun holiday and the availability of flights have made it possible,” she says. “When you have people that really like city breaks, often you find that they have already done the main European cities. Marrakesh is a very cultural city, the weather is good and it is relatively inexpensive, which is more of a priority for people now, especially those that do more than one city break a year.”

Danielle Barron

Danielle Barron is a contributor to The Irish Times