Discovering North America

written by | Posted on December 9th, 2013

Chicago Tourism

Chicago’s tourism numbers are booming

With a globe filled with destinations to choose from—ranging from well-trodden Italy and Spain to more-off-the-beaten-path Bhutan—travelers have the world at their fingertips. So what is it about North America that seems to be calling their attention, begging them to explore their own backyard?

Travelers are exploring the region one park, river cruise and city at a time, slowly discovering the natural beauty and culture North America has to offer.

“Overall, 2013 was a good year for North America,” says Jeremy Palmer, v.p., land-based products, Tauck (tauck.com). “The longer duration, more robust and higher cost-point trips continue to outperform the shorter ones. As people become more seasoned and travel the world, they really are demanding in terms of experiences that leave a mark on them. We find that in America, the more in-depth, special experiences did better [than shorter trips].”

exploring the national parks

Despite this year’s government shutdown, the tour operators I’ve spoken to all seem to agree: National parks are in demand.

“We definitely saw that the national parks and Canada had a comeback. They’ve always been strong for us, but in 2012 they slipped for a little bit. In 2013 they were back. I would say it was a movement toward green trees and snowcapped mountains,” Palmer says.

While North Americans seem to be interested in exploring the natural beauty of parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, as well as experience America’s heartland (demand for destinations like New Orleans and Mississippi river cruises were high), destinations like New England and California dropped off for Tauck.

Tauck’s themed experiences, meanwhile, such as the itineraries featuring filmmaker Ken Burns, played very well with travelers, both in and outside of the parks.

“People are drawn to the natural beauty of the parks, and outside of the parks it’s more cultural. Anything we can do to keep that content fresh and cutting-edge we continue to see a demand for,” Palmer says.

One trip that combines these elements is Tauck’s 9-day Wonderland: Yellowstone in Winter trip, a Ken Burns-themed itinerary that takes travelers through the park exploring geological features, boiling springs and mud volcanoes.

alaska & hawaii on the upswing

In the March 2013 issue, we highlighted the many things Alaska celebrated this year—the “100th anniversary of the first ascent of Mount McKinley, the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Marine Highway System, the 30th running of the Yukon Quest sled dog race, and the 25th anniversary of the ‘Friendship Flight’ from Nome to Provideniya, Siberia.” New products on land and sea are also worth celebrating, especially since North American travelers are quickly jumping on board.

As Paloma Villaverde de Rico mentioned in that article—Alaska is Celebrating in 2013—“New accommodations, new product—both on land and at sea—and a landscape of ancient volcanoes, snow-capped mountains and towering glaciers that utterly amaze no matter how many times one visits…there’s no denying Alaska has reason to look at 2013 as a banner year.”

And Alaska has the numbers to prove it. Tauck’s Alaska bookings were robust in 2013, and as Mary M. Novak-Beatty, v.p. of marketing & call center sales,Mayflower Tours (mayflowertours.com), says, “The Alaska Grand Tour showcasing Denali and the Kenai Fjords national parks sold out quickly.”

Mayflower Tours offers trips to Alaska

Mayflower Tours offers trips to Alaska

Mayflower’s tour takes travelers on a 9-day whirlwind trip through the highlights of Alaska, cruising the Chena River, riding the Alaska Railroad (alaskarailroad.com), touring the Denali National Park, and spending time in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

While travelers are flocking to North America’s natural wonders, travel to Hawaii was on the rise for tour operators in 2013, too.

“For us, this is the best year we’ve had in Hawaii and in 2014, we’re looking at a 20 to 25 percent increase again,” says Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations.

Trafalgar (trafalgar.com) has also seen an increase, with a 20.3 percent uptick in Hawaii bookings this year, due, in part no doubt, to its 13-day Hawaii Four Island Adventure trip, which visits Oahu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Maui and Kauai.

The destination has become even more accessible with the addition of Allegiant Airlines’ first nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu (allegiantairlines.com); new flights from Vancouver to Kona, Hawaii Island and Lihue, Kauai on Canada’s West Jet (westjet.com); and Mokulele Airlines (mokuleleairlines.com) offering interisland service between Kona and Kapalua, Maui.

destination florida

In the April 2013 issue, I highlighted Florida’s islands—Amelia Island, Sanibel and Captiva—for their captivating island atmospheres. As Nancy Hamilton, communications director for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (leevcb.com), said about Lee County in that feature, “It’s a very peaceful, quiet side of Florida known for its nature. It’s really an area that has been preserved and conserved over time because that’s what people who come here love, and that’s the attraction to the islands.”

Tamara Pigott, executive director, Lee County VCB, says the area has a high repeat visitor rate, with most travelers saying they’ll be back the following year.

“We have a very high satisfaction rate with the consumers who visit our area. We definitely have more couples than families visiting the area, but one thing we really deliver is a great multigenerational experience,” Pigott says.

Winter bookings are already breaking records, and hoteliers are saying they’ve never seen bookings this early.

“We’ve had a really positive year in 2013; I think we’re seeing consumer spending coming back a bit. We’re seeing really positive numbers across the board,” she says.

Another destination in Florida that never ceases to attract visitors is Walt Disney World  (disneyworld.disney.go.com), especially after the New Fantasyland expansion—the largest expansion to date at Magic Kingdom. I experienced the Disney magic firsthand at the premiere in December 2012, but the land continues to grow with the opening of Princess Fairytale Hall in September, and will be complete in the spring when the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train family-style rollercoaster opens.

Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau

Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau

As Pam Scott, regional sales director, Disney Destinations, said in the September 2013 issue in the onsite review, “A lot of people are looking forward to seeing the entire vision unveiled, but I don’t think too many people are waiting to visit the park, since the majority of the attractions are complete.” She also said that guests who have visited New Fantasyland are already looking forward to coming back and seeing the entire park come together.

las vegas shines

There’s no shortage of new happenings in this city in the desert as Vegas sinks more than $6 billion in projects that span from the Strip to Downtown. As Art Jimenez, sr. director of leisure sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), mentioned in the Las Vegas Embraces the Future article in the November 2013 issue, “This sleepless city, embraced by stunning high desert scenery, continues ‘to deliver on expectations of visitors and provides a new and different experience for every visit.’”

Not only does Las Vegas garner a high repeat visitor rate—84 percent—this constantly-changing city is delivering over-the-top experiences for clients who may have only thought of Vegas as a place for bachelor parties and weddings (although it does excel in those departments).

A bevy of high-end properties are popping up around the city in 2014, from the Gansevoort Las Vegas (gansevoorthotelgroup.com) and the SLS Hotel & Casino Las Vegas (slshotels.com/lasvegas) on the Strip to the Delano Las Vegas in the Mandalay Bay (mandalaybay.com) resort complex. Other notable attractions include the world’s largest Ferris wheel—every major city seems to have one these days—the High Roller, opening early-2014 at The Linq, the new entertainment and dining district on the Strip. And in case you haven’t heard, Britney Spears is definitely back and making her Vegas debut this month in the show, “Britney: Piece of Me” at Planet Hollywood.

While Vegas not only makes a great destination for girls’ and guys’ getaways, it’s also teaming up with the gay community. In the August 2013 issue, in the Girls & Guys Getaways in Las Vegas feature, Mike King, a Travel Leaders agent in Virginia, said, “What makes Las Vegas a great destination for the gay community is the whole attitude of the ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ motto. You can see just about anything in Vegas. It’s a very opening and welcoming community for all types of people.”

In fact, the city debuted the largest gay venue in the world this year—the 84,000-sq.-ft. Krave Massive—and play host to wedding commitment ceremonies, as well as bachelor parties-to-remember. This news definitely doesn’t have to “stay in Vegas.”

urban hotel hotspots

While New York City is always a top destination in the U.S., drawing 52 million travelers (80 percent of which were domestic) in 2012, the boroughs are enticing these visitors more than ever, inviting them to step outside of Manhattan and see what the rest of the city has to offer. As I pointed out in the May issue, in the New York City onsite review, the other boroughs “can offer room rates at 20 to 30 percent less, in some cases. In fact, since 2006, 42 percent of the hotels opening in the city have been in the boroughs.” Christopher Heywood, senior v.p. of communications for NYC & Company, said in that same onsite that these properties are “ideal for repeat visitors, as they offer something different, where guests can ‘live like a local at a better price point.’”

When I visited the city in February, the new Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn embodied the hip factor that Williamsburg is now known for, but as I mentioned in the onsite, other hotels are popping up in neighboring boroughs like the 60-room boutique Bronx Opera House Hotel, housed in a Beaux Arts building, which opened in August, and the Jazz Age-style boutique Z NYC Hotel in Long Island City.

In the Midwest, tourism is booming in Chicago as numbers have returned to pre-recession levels, bringing 46.2 million travelers in 2012. This year, the city welcomed two much-anticipated brands with the October opening of the 247-room Thompson Chicago (thompsonhotels.com/hotels/chicago/thompson-chicago) in the Gold Coast neighborhood and The Langham, Chicago (chicago.langhamhotels.com). The luxurious 316-room The Langham, Chicago debuted in the 52-story riverfront Mies van der Rohe building, featuring some of the largest standard guestrooms in the city—starting at 516 sq. ft.—as well as the 9,000-sq.-ft. Chuan Spa.

Of course, Miami is still just as enticing as ever. While we highlighted one of Miami’s spectacular hotels in our February 2013 issue, The Angler’s Boutique Resort in South Beach, the city is ending 2013 with a bang as a few high-end hotels make their way to South Beach. This month, sbe’s 69-room The Redbury South Beach  (theredbury.com/southbeach) is making a splash in South Beach, joining the brand’s other high-profile hotels, The Raleigh and SLS Hotel, South Beach. The hotel will feature James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Mantuano at Italian restaurant Lorenzo, and guestrooms will capture the spirit of 1950s Miami with record players, historic Fillmore Theater posters and vinyl collections.

Another property I’m particularly excited about that is also opening this month is COMO Hotels and Resorts’  (comohotels.comMetropolitan by COMO, Miami Beach, the luxury brand’s first North American property, set in a beachside, historic 1930s building.