Whether you’re going to Beijing or just spending a few days at the beach, 2008 is going to be a year of many and varied travel options.
Experts predict that China – site of the Summer Olympics – and Southeast Asia are going to be hot destinations this year. But in a world where the dollar doesn’t go very far and air travel usually includes a few hours of sitting on the tarmac, some travelers may opt for shorter trips.
Think of it this way: Why go to Europe when you can go to Yosemite? Travel guide publisher Lonely Planet says the No. 1 destination this year will be the United States. And the Travel Industry Association says it expects domestic leisure trips to grow 2 percent this year, to 1.6 billion trips.
“Part of it is obviously a weakening dollar,” said Jennifer Jasper, a spokeswoman for the California Travel & Tourism Commission. “But we’re just not taking as long vacations anymore. Shorter vacation trips are popular, and there’s also a lot of multi-generation travel going on, like grandparents taking their grandchildren on trips. They want to go somewhere more local.”
Other popular trends expected to gain momentum this year are singles travel and “babymoons,” a last-chance getaway before the baby arrives.
If you’re thinking about one of these types of vacations, read on.
TREND: CHINA/SOUTHEAST ASIA TRAVEL
What it’s about: Call it pre-Olympic bounce. China is the host of this year’s Summer Games, and cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are rushing to meet the anticipated demand in hotels.
The tourism boom began last year and shows no signs of slowing. According to the China National Tourist Office, foreign tourism grew more than 9 percent from 2005 to 2006 and is expected to keep rising.
“A lot of it is pre-Olympic fervor,” said Marc Casto, president of Casto Travel in Santa Clara, “but there’s amazing development taking place there, an expansion of new economies within the country, and people want to go there and see it. It’s the undiscovered new frontier. Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?”
Countries in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam, have also been growing in popularity. Favorable exchange rates make those countries a bargain when compared to Europe.
Casto quoted nightly hotel rates as low as $99 in Bangkok and $165 in Ho Chi Minh City; comparable properties in London and Paris can cost more than twice as much.
How to find it: The China National Tourist Office (www.cnto.org) has listings for tour operators and package deals. You can also download a visa application from the site.
Locally, try Global Express Travel in San Jose (www.4chinatour.com), which is offering discounted package tours for travelers who book before March 25. Owner Tina Yu also has a nine-day tour to Beijing, Shanghai and other cities, including air fare and lodging in four- and five-star hotels, for $999. The last trip departs Feb. 8.
Scoring tickets to Olympic events won’t be easy. CoSports (www.cosport.com), the official site for tickets and accommodations, says everything is sold out but advises interested buyers to check back in case some tickets become available.
What it’s about: Think of it as a last chance for peace and quiet before the storm. Expectant couples can steal away for a weekend or longer and luxuriate in a spa getaway or an in-room massage. They can share a romantic dinner for two and enjoy their time together.
When baby comes, it’s all over.
“It’s much more about a romantic vacation and intimacy,” said Emily Kaufman, an author and family travel expert known as “The Travel Mom.”
“It’s the last hurrah before the baby. It’s all about having a little taste of luxury before the sleepless nights and screaming babies.”
A number of upscale hotels offer packages that can include anything from ice cream and a welcome basket of diapers (The Cliffs Resort, Pismo Beach) to a 50-minute pre-natal massage (Chaminade, Santa Cruz).
How to find it: You’ll find more than 200 babymoon listings at Babymoonfinder.com, a site created and maintained by Ashley King, a mother of two from Greenville, S.C. “Our generation wants to truly be pampered before the Pampers,” King said. “We enjoy the extra attention.”
Looking for a getaway close to home? The W Hotel in San Francisco (www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels) has a “Baby Me” package that includes a foot scrub, baby bag, a discount for children’s furniture and a subscription to Cookie Magazine, starting at $185. In February, the Fairmont San Jose (www.fairmont.com/sanjose) plans to offer a “Pre-Labor of Love” package for $1,000: a luxury suite, spa treatment for two, breakfast in bed, an iPod Shuffle, a classical music CD and an embroidered baby blanket with your baby’s name – to be delivered after the baby is delivered.
TREND: SINGLES TRAVEL
What it’s about: Not married? You’re not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 95.7 million Americans are unmarried. That’s an untapped market for travel companies, who have begun to acknowledge that solo travel is a fast-growing segment of the industry.
In fact, about one in 10 leisure travelers hit the road on their own, according to data compiled by the Travel Industry Association. So finding trips tailored just for singles – or even finding discounts for folks traveling alone – is easier than ever.
“Tour companies are starting to notice us now,” said Ann Thomas, director of the Singles Travel Company (www.singlestravelcompany. com) in Los Gatos. “There’s a lot of singles out there.”
A number of companies, such as Thomas’ O Solo Mio of Los Altos (www.osolomio.com) and Singles Travel International (www.singlestravelintl.com) organize trips specifically for singles. Travelers share rooms and save on the dreaded single supplement – typically what two people would have to pay to stay in one room.
How to find it: More tour operators are offering discounts to attract single travelers. Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com) is taking $500 off a number of trips (including South America, South Africa and Australia) to solo travelers booking by Jan. 31 for travel between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15. Thomas said Club Med cuts it prices 30-50 percent during off-peak periods, and even cruise lines such as Holland America and Silversea discount some sailings for early bookings.
Berkeley-based Backroads (www.backroads.com), which has 161 singles departures scheduled this year, tries to pair solo travelers. But if a guest signs up more than 30 days in advance and the company can’t find a roommate, there is no extra charge for a single room.
TREND: LOCAL TRAVEL
What it’s about: A weekend at Yosemite, a day trip to the wine country, maybe a few days on the beach in Santa Barbara. Traveling closer to home is cheaper – and you don’t have to worry about the hassles associated with flying.
In California, we have mountains, deserts and beaches all within a few hours’ drive, or less, of our front doors. “Whatever type of vacation you can find in another country, you can find in California,” said Jennifer Jasper of the California Travel & Tourism Commission.
Among the most popular destinations are national parks. From January to September 2007, visits were up 1.3 percent over the same period in 2006. One of the most popular: the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco, which saw an increase of 437,000 visitors.
In a survey conducted last summer, Orbitz found that its users were taking more than twice as many weekend trips as weeklong vacations.
“You might see that trend continue in 2008,” Orbitz spokesman Jim Cohn said. “When you factor in the rising travel costs across the board – air, car, hotel – it might mean more people staying home and traveling in the U.S.”
How to find it: When was the last time you took the family on an overnight camping trip? Spring and summer are optimum times to pitch a tent, sit around the campfire and commune with nature. For best choices, check out the National Park Service (www.nps.gov) and California State Parks (www.parks.ca.gov), where you can reserve a site.