2007's Hot Destinations

While destinations such as Paris and Italy will always be popular, exotic locales are popping up on the radar for 2007. Travel Agent polled sources to find out what trends they're seeing; a handful came up again and again. "People are looking for new places to go," says Kathy Sudeikis, a former president of ASTA and vice president of corporate relations for Mission, KS-based All About Travel.

Croatia

The destination most agents we spoke with mentioned as having an upsurge in bookings is Croatia.

Marla B. Schaffer, president of Leaders in Travel, Ltd. in Great Neck, NY, says that interest is growing in Croatia, but that hotels there aren't up to the level that most clients want, so she prefers cruise vacations. Eric Ardolino, president of Wallingford, CT-based A&SA&S Travel Center, for one, is seeing amplified interest in Croatian cruises.

 Croatia make our hot list

Agents should note the new hotel and tour products coming online: Le Méridien just last month opened a hotel in the coastal town of Podstrana, about five miles from downtown Split, and Regent Hotels & Resorts is currently at work on a 120-room luxury hotel in Dubrovnik, expected to open early 2009.

Globus now offers a tour of Croatia with stops in Austria and Hungary. The 15-day trip includes a week in Croatia, exploring the Dalmatian coast as well as Split and Dubrovnik.

For more time-strapped travelers, Avanti Destinations offers a two-night stay at the four-star Hotel Jezero, located in PlitviceLakesNational Park. "Our business to Croatia has tripled from last year," says Harry Dalgaard, president of Avanti Destinations. "Part of the reason is the increased airlift between many European hubs and both Dubrovnik and Split." Famous for its national parks, Croatia will most likely be a hit with outdoor-oriented travelers, as the country's terrain includes lakes, mountains and rocky coastlines, perfect for boating enthusiasts and hikers.

Asia

Judging from the battles over airlift and rapid pace of hotel development in Asia, this region is on fire. "We're now booking more travel to China and Vietnam," observes All About Travel's Sudeikis.

"I wouldn't call China an emerging destination," says Owen Imaizumi, director of product development-Asia for Pleasant Holidays, "but with the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics, focus will be placed on China and interest and travel to China—and all of Asia—will surely increase." In addition, work on the Yangtze River dam project looks to wrap up ahead of schedule, Imaizumi says, "and thus may also create a sense of urgency to cruise the Yangtze River."


Pacific Delight Tours is among the operators noticing the uptick of travel to Vietnam, says Rosalyn Gershell, senior vice president. The cost of a Vietnam trip is reasonable and the people are welcoming, notes Imaizumi. He also points to Siem Reap in Cambodia as another locale beginning to show up on travelers' radar. "In addition to the reasonable cost and welcoming people, Cambodia's wats (temple ruins) are quite an incredible sight," he observes.

Cambodia is one destination that is putting Asia on the top of everyone's list

According to Martin Rapp, senior vice president of leisure sales at Altour International, Cambodia and Laos have fed off the success of Vietnam and are becoming resurgent hot spots, with bookings up in the regions. Jim Hamilton, travel consultant for Kirkland, WA-based ETI Travel, a Virtuoso agency, also is finding that Southeast Asia is popular, especially Thailand, where the company is seeing a lot of honeymoon interest.

As for India, demand by upscale travel has been pressing against finite supply, observe several tour operators. However, infrastructure is poised to more than double in the next several years as the country prepares for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, says Max Ali, director of sales for SITA World Tours. Already coming on line or in the pipeline are wildlife lodges that Taj is opening in partnership with CC Africa, as well as a succession of hotels under such brands as Hyatt, Radisson, Sheraton, Marriott and Hilton. "People feel safe now...These hotels are like gated communities," says Rapp, referring to luxury India properties such as the Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, of which there are 11 in India.

Australia and New Zealand

"We're seeing increased interest in the South Pacific, especially Australia and New Zealand," says ETI Travel's Hamilton. "Our clients feel safe in these destinations, and they've been everywhere else."

Australia make our hot list

Ardolino of A&SA&S Travel Center is seeing strong bookings to Australia, and a survey of recent bookings made by American Express Travel representatives unveiled New Zealand as another top destination for 2007, specifically the towns of Christchurch and Wellington. Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand and offers many national parks and gardens. Meanwhile Wellington may better suit those looking for a more urban vibe. The city has museums, nightlife and dining and is on the southwestern tip of the NorthIsland on Cook Strait, the passage that separates the North and SouthIslands. That doesn't mean outdoor-oriented travelers shouldn't consider New Zealand's capital city for their next vacation though. Abercrombie & Kent this year expanded its New Zealand offerings to include a 14-day "natural adventure" with stops in both Christchurch and Wellington, among other cities. The tour focuses on outdoor activities, including an exploration of Wellington's more scenic side through a tour of TongarriroNational Park.

Central America

Panama is heating up; canal cruises are in demand

A&SA&S Travel Center's Ardolino is seeing growth from Belize and Costa Rica as is Schaeffer of Leaders in Travel, and Costa Rica is a strong performer for Sudeikis' All About Travel. But Panama is picking up heat. "Cruises to the Panama Canal are in demand, given the combination of high desire with low availability," says Ardolino.

"Panama is evolving as a popular Central American destination—and one reason is the new airlift between Costa Rica and Panama," says Dalgaard of Avanti Destinations. "There is a direct flight from San Jose to Bocas Del Toro in Panama—a tropical paradise with coral reefs, crystal-clear water that is great for diving, and beautiful white sandy beaches. Then vacationers can fly to Panama City and enjoy a Panama Canal tour."

—David Eisen, Camie Foster, Jennifer Merritt, Joe Pike, Mark Rogers

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