Travel Unpacked: Emirates to fly to Madagascar and National Geographic's 2025 adventures

The National rounds up the top tourism news stories you might have missed

Emirates is launching flights to Madagascar. Photo: Emirates
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Travellers seeking new destinations can add Madagascar to the mix after Emirates announced that it will fly to the African island from September.

In Saudi Arabia, tourism is booming and there's an exciting new coastal destination being developed in Neom, while National Geographic Expeditions has unveiled new adventures for next year.

Here's a round-up of recent travel and tourism news – in case you missed it.

Emirates expands Indian Ocean network with Madagascar flights

Ring-tailed lemurs, rainforests, chameleons, waterfalls and more, the wonderful world of Madagascar will soon be within easier reach after the announcement from Emirates that it is launching flights to the Indian Ocean island country.

The airline's new route between Dubai and Antananarivo, via the Seychelles, will operate four times a week from September 3.

Boeing 777 jets will offer first class, business class and economy cabins and the Seychelles stop means travellers can combine two holidays into one.

“Madagascar has historically been underserved, despite growing appetite from travellers for authentic eco-tourism experiences,” said Adnan Kazim, Emirates’ deputy president and chief commercial officer.

He added that the new service will “boost Madagascar’s connectivity” and “open new international business opportunities”.

Flights will depart Dubai just before 9am, landing in Mahe at 1.35pm. After a pause of around 90 minutes, where travellers remain on board, flights will continue to Antananarivo, with a flying time of 2 hours 45 minutes. The return service departs Madagascar at 6.35pm, landing in Mahe at 10.20pm and leaving again for Dubai just before midnight.

The world's fourth-largest island offers incredible biodiversity, with 5 per cent of the planet’s plant and animal species only found on this island.

From untouched beaches and limestone plateaus to sprawling national parks and Unesco World Heritage sites, Madagascar offers plenty of natural wonders. Home to many of the world's endangered animal species, the destination embraces eco-tourism, and aims to attract travellers with a similar mindset.

Neom's Magna to open as a coastal destination on the Gulf of Aqaba

Neom has revealed plans for its newest luxury lifestyle coastal destination. Magna will be located on the Gulf of Aqaba, spanning 120km and combining 12 luxury districts.

Part of the futuristic city's sustainable tourism portfolio, the destination will combine 12 previously announced projects. That includes Treyam, which is set to have the world's longest infinity swimming pool; Utamo, an immersive event space cocooned in a mountain with a 64-metre-tall entrance; and Aquellum, which will be home to the world's first floating marina.

Part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 plans, Magna will be a tourism destination that has sustainability as a key focus. With plans for 15 luxury hotels with 1,600 keys, Magna is expected to welcome 300,000 annual visitors.

Nadhmi Al-Nasr, chief executive at Neom, describes Magna as “a treasure of tomorrow, steeped in natural beauty and advanced technology” and says it will “contribute positively to national economic diversification efforts and the broader Saudi Vision 2030 goals”.

An opening date has yet to be announced, but Magna is the latest addition to the evolving megaprojects in the north-west of Saudi Arabia. It will join the likes of The Line and Trojena, the Middle East's first winter sports mountain destination.

National Geographic expands adventures to Sri Lanka, Portugal and Australia

National Geographic Expeditions is adding three new itineraries to its collection of travel packages next year. Designed to bring tourists closer to nature, the holidays include adventures in Portugal and the Azores, Sri Lanka and Australia.

“We are thrilled to introduce travellers to three new and exciting itineraries,” said Nancy Schumacher, senior vice president and general manager of National Geographic Expeditions. “These immersive experiences will provide our guests with special access as we tour breathtaking landscapes and observe wildlife while also learning from experts and naturalists.”

In Sri Lanka, travellers can join an 11-day exploration across the teardrop island that takes in six Unesco World Heritage sites, wildlife observations and ocean experiences. There will also be a visit to Oceanswell, a National Geographic-supported foundation established by Asha de Vos, a Sri Lankan marine biologist and ocean educator.

Portugal and the Azores can be discovered on a 10-day trip that includes tasting traditional cuisine influenced by the spice trade, touring Porto on an electric tuk-tuk and kayaking along the Unesco-listed Douro Valley.

In Australia, meanwhile, travellers can spend 11 days exploring the Great Barrier Reef and viewing marine life from an underwater observatory; meeting conservation experts and seeing protected indigenous wildlife like fairy penguins; as well as trekking with aboriginal guides through the Daintree Rainforest.

Tourism is booming in Saudi Arabia, global report finds

Saudi Arabia is celebrating a record year for tourism, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

In addition to record GDP contributions and jobs in the sector, the kingdom also enjoyed record visitor spending last year.

The report said Saudi Arabia's travel and tourism industry grew by 32 per cent and represented 11.5 per cent of the economy.

Seven years ahead of its target, the kingdom welcomed 100 million tourists last year. The report said international visitor spending surged by almost 57 per cent to reach 227.4 billion Saudi riyals ($60 billion), breaking the previous record by 93.6 billion Saudi riyals.

The council found that domestic tourism spending was also up, rising 21.5 per cent compared to the previous year. The report states that working in tourism is becoming increasingly common, with the sector now accounting for almost one in every five jobs.

“Saudi Arabia’s travel and tourism sector's extraordinary achievements last year mark a pivotal moment in its journey towards becoming a global tourism leader,” said Julia Simpson, chief executive and president of the council.

According to the report, the tourism industry will account for almost 16 per cent of the country's economy by 2034.

Updated: June 11, 2024, 7:15 AM