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Destination unknown: Is mystery travel for you?

Surprise holidays are going mainstream as more and more travellers are opting to remain in the dark until they arrive at the airport

11:38 February 3, 2018

A sealed white envelope appeared to be all that mattered for honeymooners Julian and Ella as they stood with eager anticipation at Heathrow Airport, London, waiting to discover the destination of their two-week mystery vacation. The details would only be revealed once they broke the seal.

The couple happened to be one of many who are signing up for such so-called mystery holidays, which is being called one of the fasting growing travel trends sweeping across the world today. Online magazine and trend forecasting agency, Globetrender predict surprise travel itineraries and mystery holidays will go mainstream this year.

For Julian and Ella, whose video blog captured their delight as the envelope spilled out its contents, their destination read: Brazil.

FLYING BLIND

Over the past few years, mystery travel agencies have set up shop across the globe with the Dubai-based Blind Experiences behind the Julian-Ella getaway that sent the honeymooners off to Brazil, including several nights in the Amazon rainforest, and capping it all off with a beach hideaway on the Galapagos Islands.

The Washington Post describes the concept as similar to the premise of the children’s TV show, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, and part a match-making site, which draws inputs from The Amazing Race reality show.

Fabio Prestijacopo, co-founder of Blind Experiences, went a step further as he explained the concept of such surprise travel itineraries, saying: “The idea behind a mystery holiday is to retain that element of surprise when discovering a new country. This does away with the ‘overplanning’ that most of us are guilty of.

“Also, a lot of our clients are honeymooners who probably don’t really have the time to plan the perfect getaway, what with planning their own wedding. This is where we come in.”

Friends, family members and even co-workers are roped in to provide detailed insight into the likes and dislikes of the travellers, with social media ‘stalking’ filling in the missing gaps.

“You would be surprised at how much a person ends up revealing about themselves on social media,” said Prestijacopo.

The Anywhr team, a Singapore-based start-up follows a similar premise, where mystery-seekers are asked to select the type of holiday they would like — adventure, getaway or an experience. Once you make the choice, a budget option and the duration of your break is left up to you before an envelope is waiting for you on the day of departure with details of your travel.

And yes, they do plan such break for overseas guests as well, including UAE residents.

“I find the whole concept just so exciting,” said Dubai resident and travel blogger Rutavi Mehta, who revealed she has sought out such blind vacations even before this became a trend.

She continued: “Several years ago, while I was living in Mumbai, I simply showed up at the airport with a suitcase, looking for the first flight out of India that would fit my budget and didn’t leave me stressing over visa arrangements.”

Mehta’s journey took her to Malaysia that particular time. She added: “I enjoyed that experience so much that I roped in several friends to try out a blind getaway with me, which literally saw us blindfolded and taken by cars on a weekend getaway outside Mumbai. We ended up in Alibaug [a beachside destination] this time around.”

AIRLINES TAKE OFF

Travel agencies aren’t the only ones taking off with this trend, as airlines such as Germany’s Lufthansa and Virgin Australia also offering mystery breaks for enthusiasts.

Lufthansa Surprise is the airline’s dedicated site for such mystery getaways, offering a similar premise to most agencies, although with departures only limited from Frankfurt and Munich. However, as avid traveller Kanchan Bhatia saying: “I actually prefer this considering I do away with the hurdle of showing up at the airport with my husband worrying whether I would have a valid Schengen visa.”

While this particular airline offers an option of nine types of getaways — from urban adventures to go with the bro — Virgin Australia offers a similar premise with domestic mystery breaks that depart from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

While the concept, which has been around since 2014 when the Dutch company Sprs.me launched its bespoke mystery breaks, has been gaining momentum, not everyone appears to be cut out for a surprise holiday — especially a honeymoon.

Cathy Marks, a Dubai resident who is planning for her wedding in late 2018, said: “As much as it sounds romantic and mysterious to take off on such a break, I most certainly will not opt for such a concept for my honeymoon. There are so many elements that could go wrong — we could hate the destination, the hotel, the airline.

“Perhaps, there was a time in my 20s when I was young and adventurous but when you reach you 30s, you prefer having it all sorted before you show up at the airport.”

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How do mystery holidays work?

How would you feel about going on a holiday without knowing your destination until you arrive at the airport? Would you feel comfortable hopping into a car, blindfolded as you make your way to a mystery weekend getaway? Gulf News tabloid! breaks down how a mystery holiday works:

Planning: Fabio Prestijacopo, co-founder of Blind Experiences explains: “Couples, families or even close friends first reach out to us sharing their travel needs. Questions about previous travel experiences, hobbies, dislikes, allergies, every single thing is noted down via a questionnaire.”

The duration of the break and budget needs are also met during this stage, allowing agencies to understand the basic need of the holidaymaker.

Personalised breaks: Companies such as the Amsterdam-based Sprs.me assigns a personal consultant who chooses the destination based on the information provided, along with booking flights and accommodation.

Most agencies allow travellers to veto destinations in advance through a pre-empted selection. Meanwhile, family members and close friends who have been nominated by the travellers are quizzed to share insight that will allow the agencies to create a bespoke holiday.

“We planned a honeymoon last year for where the wife was revealed to be a huge fans of Japanese Manga comics. We ended up sending the couple to Japan where they were given a private tour of a collection of the wife’s favourite artist and taken by the collector to places in Tokyo that inspired the artist to create his comics,” revealed Prestijacopo.

Practical needs: Singapore-based company Anywhr mails an envelope to travellers a week before their trip, with enough cash to get passengers from the destination airport to their accommodation.

Three days to a week before travelling, the first email or envelope arrives telling travellers what type of clothes to pack. In the case of Blind Experiences, a total of 10 envelopes are sent out with a time and date mentioned on each one to be opened before and during the travel.

Destination reveal: Passengers are given a time to arrive at the airport before the final destination is revealed right before check-in.