Despite a bleak economy, Americans are still going to find a way to see the world next year.
In a survey by CheapTickets.com and SmartMoney.com, people ranked travel second only to dining out as the leisure activity they are trying to afford. While two-thirds of those surveyed said they will lower their travel expenses, they’re more likely to cut back on other areas first, including cars, clothes, electronics and gadgets.
“Vacation is a priority in the lives of our family,” says Andy Trowbridge, a 46-year-old geologist from Indianapolis. “We will cut back on birthday and Christmas gifts, delay the purchase of a new car, etc., but we will not ditch our vacation plans for 2009.”
Nevertheless, there could be fewer travelers next year — but only slightly. The Travel Industry Association forecasts the number of travelers will be down by 1.3 percent from 2008. The nationwide survey showed 71.4 percent of U.S. adults plan to take a trip within the next six months.
“American travelers are trading down, but not out,” says Peter Yesawich, chairman of Ypartnership, which co-wrote the survey with the TIA. “Consumers are likely to plan and purchase leisure trips differently with the pursuit of a good value as the primary reason why.”
To save money, those surveyed plan to book a packaged vacation, comparison shop on the Internet or stay fewer nights at their destination.
Trowbridge, for example, says his family will pass on returning to Jamaica this summer and stay closer to home, with plans for short boating trips along the Ohio River near Tell City, and on the lakes at Dale Hollow, Ky., and Table Rock Lake, Mo.
The upside of the economic slowdown: It may lead to less demand for seats on planes and rooms in hotels, bringing about a decrease in airfares and room rates, according to American Express’ annual forecast.
Here are some money-saving and other trends for 2009 travel:
National parks will be a top trend for families looking for vacations that will allow them to make some lifetime memories and save a few pennies. In a recent TripAdvisor survey, 73 percent said they plan to visit a national park in 2009, up from 62 percent one year ago. Some of the most popular lodges fill up quickly for the summer, so reserve now at www.nps.gov.
DEAL: The Family Value Package at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado includes two nights at the Far View Lodge, daily breakfast buffet for four, a half-day guided bus tour of Mesa Verde’s ancient sites, including Cliff Palace, and two children’s dinners for two nights. Cost: $339, for two adults and two children ages 11 and younger, www.visitmesaverde.com/ reservations.cfm, (888) 896-3831.
Three quarters of those polled in a Travel Industry Association survey plan to book a package vacation to save cash — a trend that is particularly popular with baby boomers, according to the U.S. Tour Operators Association. Tour package operators can contract in bulk for accommodations, ground transportation, sightseeing tours, meals and other services. They also provide peace of mind in case a problem arises.
DEAL: Best of Italy — Insight Vacations’ 11-day package — tours the country’s most significant sites. The trip includes first-class accommodations, a gondola ride in Venice, dinner in Rome, four additional dinners and nine buffet breakfasts, motorcoach transportation and a professional tour director. Cost: $2,425, www.insightvacations.com.
More than a third of U.S. respondents in a TripAdvisor survey said they will visit an environmentally friendly hotel or resort in 2009. Likewise, 32 percent of respondents said they will be more environmentally conscious in their travel decisions than they were the year before. For a list of eco-friendly hotels, visit www .ecotrotters.com.
DEAL: The Earthcare Package at Pacific Palisades Hotel in Vancouver includes a $50 dining credit at the ZIN Restaurant & Lounge, organic sense bath salts, eco-turndown service with organic chocolates, free valet parking if you drive a hybrid vehicle and a $30 carbon offset credit if you fly in. Cost: From $355 per night, www.pacificpalisadeshotel.com, (604) 688-0461.
To stay afloat, the cruise industry is offering some of its lowest rates in history. Companies try to fill every ship to capacity to maximize the revenue from shore excursions, onboard casinos, alcoholic drinks and souvenirs, so any vacant cabins are offered at a cheaper rate. Some cruise lines are so desperate, they’re posting deals on Southwest Airlines’ Web site.
DEAL: Seven-night, Bahamas cruise on the Norwegian Majesty, starting at $284 per person, based on double-occupancy. Various departure dates from Charleston, S.C., Jan. 3 through April 25. Log on to www.southwest.com, click “Special Offers,” “Cruises Specials” and “Book Your Cruise Today.”
Based on an analysis of hotel-pricing trends, CheapTickets.com projects the most cost-effective time to travel to these destinations in 2009:
» Hong Kong in January.
» Italy in February.
» Brazil in April.
» Greece in November.
» Napa Valley in December.
» Portland, Maine, in March.
» Tucson, Ariz., in August.
» Hawaii in September.
Hot seaside retreats
Looking for a sunny spot where the dollar still buys you a lot? Travel + Leisure magazine suggests these seaside destinations:
Mazatlán, Mexico — A hot spot during the late 19th century for vacationing German, French and Mexican aristocrats, the Pacific Coast town is experiencing a renaissance with the growth of stylish cafes, boutiques and hotels.
Pranburi, Thailand — The area’s isolation, authenticity and character are attracting travelers in search of the Thailand of 20 years ago, driving many of them to choose it over congested Hua Hin.
Marquesas Islands, South Pacific — Travelers will find tranquility in this French Polynesian outpost, with its cliffs, black-sand beaches, waterfalls, forests and 4,186-foot Mount Temetiu.
DEAL: Hiva Oa Hanakee Pearl Lodge in Marquesas has 14 bamboo-lattice bungalows with woven-palm wall coverings, bark-paper paintings and carved tiki poles. Rates start at $267 per night, (800) 657-3275, www.pearl resorts.com.
You’ll see fewer suits at the airport in 2009; the Travel Industry Association projects that business travel will have dropped 3.7 percent in 2008, and will decline another 2.7 percent in 2009. But for those business-types still traveling, Travel + Leisure rates these three hotels as the best in the U.S. for business travel:
1. Four Seasons Resort, Dallas.
2. Peninsula Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.
3. Four Seasons Hotel, Chicago.
DEAL: Travel + Leisure magazine also rates these as a great value for the business traveler: Nine Zero, Boston; Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, Philadelphia; and Inn at the Market, Seattle.
Culinary travel is sizzling hot for 2009. It’s the top pick for 2009 Specialty Travel Trends and Destinations by the Specialty Travel Agents Association. The STAA says there is a growing demand for travel that includes local cuisine and wine itineraries. Options worldwide may include learning about food production, local market excursions, cooking classes, wine tastings and farm stays. (For the complete STAA top 10 list, visit www.specialtytravel agents.com.)
DEAL: Women’s Culinary Weekend, Jan. 23-25, March 27-29 and July 24-26, Mount Carroll, Ill. The retreat includes gourmet meals, cooking classes, tours of organic farms and stores, shopping and lodging. Cost: $375 per person, based on double occupancy, www.learngreatfoods .com.
Special interest travel
Niche tours are taken by people who share specific interests — a nature photo tour, for example, or a tour of Anglican cathedrals. It’s one of two special-interest travel trends expected to rise in 2009, travel agents for American Express note. The other trend is authentic travel — experiencing a destination more thoroughly through longer stays and cultural immersion, like a trip to Guatemala where the traveler visits the home of a Mayan weaver and picks coffee beans alongside local workers at an organic coffee farm.
DEAL: Callaway Gardens Photography Tour, April 5-11, Southern Appalachians of Georgia. Five days of photographing native dogwoods, azaleas, wildflowers, shrubs, lakes, waterfalls and butterflies in the 14,000-acre Callaway Gardens, plus six nights lodging. Cost: $2,895 from Atlanta, www.photosafaris.com, (206) 463-5383.