Top Travel Trends, Tips, and Destinations for 2009

Global slowdown creates buyer's market for last-minute travelers.

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If you can travel in 2009, welcome to a world of bargains, last-minute deals, and relatively uncrowded hotels, resorts, and beaches. According to a recent survey from Travel Leaders, the new corporate name for Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, more than 90 percent of travel agents working out of hundreds of the company's offices say they're seeing customer cutbacks in travel. Agents also say nearly half of travelers are booking their 2009 trips later than in previous years to take advantage of last-minute deals and other concessions. Here are the five ways leisure travels are saving money, according to the survey:

  1. Flexible travel dates 75.7%
  2. Using all-inclusive resort packages 71.0%
  3. Using frequent flyers miles 63.5%
  4. Taking a cruise 56.3%
  5. Booking only if a promotion or deal is offered 50.9%

The picture is much the same globally, according to the ITB World Travel Trends Report 2008/2009, which was released late last year. "Given the events of the last few months and the generally gloomy economic outlook, the prospects for travel and tourism in the short term—at least to the end of 2009—are not very positive," the report said. "There are no quick or easy fixes to the current crisis, which was many years in the making, and the situation is almost certain to get worse before it gets better."

American Express polled its travel staffers and noted five trends for 2009:

  1. Second City Travel: Bypassing a major draw and visiting a lesser-known, nearby area that still provides a great vacation experience but at a lower cost. Think Birmingham instead of London; Calgary rather than Toronto.
  2. Tried-and-True Travel: Going to a place you know increases the odds of having an enjoyable time, since you'll have a better idea about how to spend your time and money.
  3. Closer-to-Home Travel: The "staycation" becomes the "nearcation." Want the French experience? Visit Montreal, not Paris.
  4. Family Vacation Rentals: Bring the extended family together for multigenerational bonding at a reasonable cost.
  5. Value Vacations: All-inclusive resort and cruise-line packages are increasingly more attractive for travelers who want known and controllable bottom-line costs.

AmEx also said it's seeing continued growth in trips to climate-challenged areas, cultural immersion travel, group tours focused on niche interests, and solo travel. Travel Leaders also surveyed its offices about leading travel destinations. Although the sizable decrease in overall travel has been the most significant change, Travel Leaders found that the frequency of distant foreign destinations is also on the decline, as consumers are choosing nearby warm-weather trips to Mexico and the Caribbean.

Travel Leaders agents were recently asked to name the top leisure-travel destinations chosen by customers so far this year, based on actual bookings: 

Top 10 Domestic Destinations, 2009:

1. Las Vegas 61.4%
2. Orlando 60.8%
3. Kahului (Maui), Hawaii 39.9%
4. Honolulu 36.3%
5. New York City 31.3%
6. Phoenix/Scottsdale 19.0%
7. Anchorage 15.9%
8. Washington 15.0%
9. San Francisco 14.8%
10. Chicago 13.6%

Top 10 International Destinations, 2009:

1. Caribbean cruising  64.1%
2. Cancun, Mexico   58.1%
3. Riviera Maya, Mexico  37.2%
4. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico  21.2%
5. Mediterranean cruising   20.5%
6. Montego Bay, Jamaica 20.1%
7. Rome   19.4%
8. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic   18.1%
9. Cabo San Lucas/ Los Cabos, Mexico  15.8%
10. (tie) Cruising Mexico  15.6%
10. (tie) London  15.6%

Top 5 Cruise Destinations, 2009:

1. Caribbean (western) 27.2%
2. Alaska 17.6%
3. Caribbean (eastern) 16.8%
4. Mexican Riviera 7.9%
5. Caribbean (southern) 6.9%