Travel Trends for 2011

Road Trip

melgupta, flickr

The slogging economic recovery may not make 2011 the year of the splurge for most of us, but the new year is bringing more choice, more research ability, more deals to be had, and, hopefully, more fun. Here's our top ten trends in travel list for 2011. Let the planning begin.

In 2011 we will....

Travel Trends for 2011

jaaron, flickr
10. Take a Niche Trip
Have you always been, say, intrigued by tasting tea in China? Chances are you will find a tour company with the perfect itinerary for learning about the perfect temperature for brewing, types of pots, and unusual rocks found only in China used for mineralizing the water. "We are seeing a maturing, sophisticated traveler for whom a luxurious bedroom by a beach is not enough. For their dollar these days and with time in severe limitation they want to indulge a special interest at the same time," says JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers, CEO of Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates, a collection of experiential hotels around the world. "If they have an itch to do something unusual it does not take much these days to find a company that can arrange it."

9. Get Even Smarter with our Phones
If 2010 was the year of the smartphone, 2011 will be the year of travel through that smartphone. This includes comparing fares, predicting price drops, getting pinged for one-day (or even one-hour) specials, plus finding hotels, gas, bathrooms, Starbucks, and all sorts of attractions. You barely need to look up to embrace where you are. "As smartphones evolve and applications for them become more tailored, use for travel is certainly likely to increase," notes Lincoln Merrihew on his blog for Compete. "The most desired future applications are for managing travel after booking. This includes being notified of changes in schedules or consolidating disparate reservations. How great would it be to have your location-enabled smartphone tell you where your lost luggage is, or tap into the airline's bag tracking system, much as Federal Express allows me to track packages."

8. Learn a New Skill
You might say travel is the antidote for wandering minds. No longer does it suffice to spend a family weekend by a hotel pool or plan a week by the beach without detours to museums or a nearby historic town. Many travelers want to bring something back -- a new skill, some paintings they made, a new language. For the adventurous there are volunteer vacations for building houses and digging wells in remote corner of the world. For the green thumb, setting up garden tours through the British countryside may be the best bet. >

Travel Trends for 2011

Joelk75, flickr
7. Go to Vegas for Value
It's no secret that America's favorite adult playland took a hit over the past two years and saw hotel occupancy rates down 10 percent over the 2007 high. Yet, according to the 2011 Travel Trends Survey conducted by Travel Leaders, Vegas is the "top spot" for 2011, edging out last year's winner Orlando. Rates at the new high-tech Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter are running as low as $139, for instance. Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, a non-gaming hotel tower right at center Strip, has a winter promo package through March that offers a $50 spa credit, and 15 percent discount on room rate for rates as low as $109. Or splurge on a wrap-around terrace suite over the lights of Las Vegas at the new Cosmopolitan for $650 per night, including a $100 food and beverage credit. You can always save with the $1.99 shrimp cocktails at the Golden Gate Casino and stick to the penny slots.

6. Have a Stylish Stay
While the past two years were probably among the worst on record if you happen to be a hotelier, 2011 is showing signs of recovery with higher occupancy and slightly lower rates. Hotel properties up and down the spectrum have been offering bottom dollar rates for sublime surrounds and have been spoiling consumers into expecting excellent deals for tony resort experiences. Meanwhile, an explosion of development over the past 15 years has yielded a crop of luxurious condo-hotel properties in hot locations as well as design- and amenity-intensive boutique accommodations giving travelers more choice (and better rates) than ever. "Now it is all about choice," says Kevin McCarthy, a hospitality veteran with Sheraton Corp. and now general manager of the Beach House Hotel in Hermosa Beach, California. "It used to be all about location and brand, but now it is about 'unique.' While independent and boutique hotels are still at the higher end of the rate scale, they are also still very affordable and offer the most bang for the buck."

5. Take a Road Trip
Not a fan of those see-all scanners? Jump in the car, instead. While budget airlines used to be inexpensive and convenient enough to replace car travel, today's high-priced tickets, packed flights, common schedule delays, long security lines, new fees, seat restrictions and even scanners are putting the car back into front position for a lot of people who want to indulge in hassle-free travel. To that end, packing the family in the van for an overnight to Temecula or Hershey or Kennebunkport brings its own rewards. The variety of fuel-efficient cars running off assembly lines will make these drives that much sweeter and drive business to small mom and pop hotels and stores along the way.

Travel Trends for 2011

DirectDish, flickr
4. Get Back to Nature
Visits to national parks have been trending upward for the past two years. In fact 2009, more than 285.6 million people visited America's national parks, marking the fifth busiest year in the 95-year history of the national park system. This could be thanks to Ken Burns' documentary about the national parks, or maybe President Obama's visit to Yellowstone. Either way, attendance will be even higher thanks to a bevy of free days through the national park system. Mark these dates and consult the parks website for added listings: April 16-24, 2011 (National Park Week); September 24, 2011 (Public Lands Day); November 11-13, 2011 (Veterans Day weekend).

3. Go Somewhere for our Health
You can add years to your life, take years off your face, get pregnant, find an organ replacement or buy a smile while seeing the sights on a medical vacation. The continuing explosion of hospital costs in the U.S. coupled with the increased difficulty of working with insurance companies has been driving an escalating trend toward off shore medical care, especially for adventurous youth and baby-boomers. A study by Deloitte and Touche predicts the estimated 878,000 medical tourists from the United States last year will grow to nearly 1.3 million in 2011, and more than 1.6 million in 2012. The top ten medi-vacation destinations are Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, India, Turkey, Ireland, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Germany, according to travel insurer Mondial Assistance. PlanetHospital, a California-based medical travel facilitator, notes its most popular destinations are Belgium, El Salvador, and Panama, especially when it comes to weight-loss procedures and fertility treatments.

2. Join the Club
It's not your ski club of yesteryear. Nor your alumni getaway. Some of these new Membership Clubs, such as (a partnership between Luxury Link and Travel + Leisure magazine), offer free memberships and bring significant savings on hotels and vacations simply for the privilege of being able to send you a daily email about these opportunities. Discounts run up to 40 percent off rack rates with spot deals that last three to seven days. Other memberships come with fees attached: Exclusive Resorts and Quintess, LRW require five –and six-figure fees to be part of this rarefied group of travelers who head from mansion to mansion in their world explorations. For the rest of us, however, travel clubs do create a system of clout for which value can be exchanged for a willing audience. Caveats remain when it comes to ponying up fees for play. Make sure the club has a history, check with some of the hotels and suppliers to make sure the discounts exist and that such deals are not accessible by non-members as well.

Travel Trends for 2011

Uzbekistan; Laura and Fulvio's photos, flickr
1. Go on the Trip of a Lifetime
The great vacation of 2011 is on. According to Thomas Stanley, COO of Cox & Kings USA, 2011 will be a "bucket-list" year. Top destinations for 2011, based on demand from Cox & Kings clients, include Libya, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Colombia and Jordan. As an example, the company's Silk Road excursion runs 12 days, starting in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and ending in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, with stays at top hotels along the way, detours into ancient bazaars, caves, UNESCO sites, churches, temples and monuments. The cost is $7,450 per person and chances are you won't see a lot of other foreign travelers along the way.

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