As U.S. travelers look to their own backyard for vacation opportunities, tour operators, hotels, and rail and small ship companies added product in 2012 to meet the demand.
Looking back on 2012 and the vacation destinations that were making headlines this year (Europe and its popular river cruise market; all-inclusive resorts in Cancun, Riviera Maya, and Punta Cana; and destinations like Cuba, South Africa and Israel), travel agents may wonder how the North American leisure market fared these past 12 months. According to tour operators and independent travel agents selling domestic and Canadian vacations, pretty darn well.
Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations (insightvacations.com) says the company saw a huge trend toward domestic travel. There was a “40 percent increase in U.S. and Canada tours over the previous year and this trend is continuing on into 2013.” As a result the company is expanding its luxury line of Insight Gold tours into the U.S. market, offering luxury itineraries in Hawaii, America’s Deep South and northeastern regions, as well as Canada.
Whether it was the frontier of the American West, rail travel in Canada, or the Aloha culture in Hawaii, North America fared well this year and can expect an increase in visitors in the year to come.
the lure of national parks
Americans love their national parks. It’s not just the unspoiled beauty that attracts visitors to America’s West, but the slew of activities this vacation experience offers to the traveler—from biking to rafting, hiking and camping.
“The states of Montana and Wyoming represent excellent opportunities for families to connect, and escape the heat of the east in the summer,” says Caroline Bach Wood, an independent travel advisor with Brownell Travel—a Virtuoso agency. “Overall, I think the U.S. represents such value because the activities are reasonable, logistics are relatively simple and it is obviously less expensive to fly to the Western U.S. than Europe.”
Carolyn Walters Fox, director of marketing & media relations with Country Walkers (countrywalkers.com) tour operators specializing in walking adventures, says U.S. national park tours did exceptionally well this year. Excursions like the Montana & Wyoming: Yellowstone journey increased 20 percent over 2011, as did the Colorado & Utah: Mesa Verde, Arches & Canyonlands excursion, a 6-day trip where trekkers explore the remote borderlands of the two states.
Search your bookshelf for our July 2012 issue where we provide an onsite review of Big Sky Resort (bigskyresort.com) in Montana, and feature the benefits of a day trip to Yellowstone National Park, just 18 miles south of the resort.
Hawaii’s popularity could be attributed to its accessibility to the east coaster. Hawaiian Airlines (hawaiianairlines.com) is now flying nonstop from New York (JFK) to Honolulu, and travelers from Washington, D.C. can fly direct on United. In fact, in our The Lure of Hawaii piece (November 2012), Jay Talwar, senior v.p. of marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (hvcb.org), said, “One of Hawaii’s biggest selling points is that each of our six islands offers a diversity of unique destination experiences that fulfill travelers’ desires.”
Julie Zadeh, managing director of travel trade marketing for the HVCB, adds, “Our recent island branding research discovered that many travelers, new and repeat, are unaware of how diverse and unique each of our major islands are. Once they understand, they are more likely to want to visit and re-visit Hawaii.”
For agents who have yet to tap into this dollar-generating travel market, the HVCB’s travel trade website (agents.gohawaii.com) provides marketing and sales tools to better sell the Hawaiian Islands. The bureau has also introduced a new diagnostic tool named “Which Island to Visit” asking the traveler a set of questions to help them identify which island experience best fits their ideal Hawaiian vacation.
from river to rail
Our March 2012 Small Ship Cruising in the U.S. story advised the travel agent to keep an eye out for the Great American Steamboat Company (americanqueensteamboatcompany.com) and its then-new 436-guest Steamboat American Queen, and the travel industry definitely focused in on this unique product. Due to high-demand, Great American Steamboat Company announced its 2013 schedule this summer for itineraries aboard the paddleboat steamboat cruising along the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers.
Small ship cruise specialist American Cruise Lines (americancruiselines.com), which experienced record sales this summer and early-fall, introduced its Queen of the Mississippi this year, a 150-passenger paddlewheeler embarking on a 7-night voyage from New Orleans.
Tour operator Tauck (tauck.com) is also penetrating the market, announcing its new 11-day Mississippi River cruise launching early next year as part of the company’s Ken Burns American Journeys collection. The Life on the Mississippi itinerary begins with an overnight stay in Memphis followed by a 7-night Mississippi River cruise aboard the American Queen concluding with a 2-night stay in New Orleans.
For those interested in enjoying both the journey and the destination, rail travel is the way to go. In our November 2012 issue, we gave you an onboard review of the Rocky Mountaineer (rockymountaineer.com), a popular rail service offering eastbound-to-westbound routes with an up-close-and-personal view of Canada’s natural beauty. Our sidebar story in that same piece featured VIA Rail (viarail.ca) and its flagship route on The Canadian, a popular journey connecting Toronto and Vancouver.
“With rail travel, I think people have to understand that the destination is really just a supplement to the overall experience,” says Ryan Robutka, senior manager of sales and marketing for VIA Rail. “The desire to want to enjoy both the journey and the destination is imperative when traveling by rail. With VIA Rail, you view the country’s landscape, yet within the comfort of the train, and meet people from all over Canada and beyond.”
bright lights, sin city
The numbers don’t lie—people love Vegas. Art Jimenez, senior director of leisure sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (lvcva.com), says the city is expecting to reach a record number of visitors this year, surpassing the last record of 39.2 million met in 2007. “Our goal is 40 million visitors this year and because we have seen more than two years of steady growth, we are confident we will reach it,” he says.
What’s the draw? Could it be the endless selection of hotel-casinos; pool parties where the young and beautiful frolic; or the enticement of the Vegas Strip?
This year, it seems every one of our issues featured Las Vegas, and since it seems your sending your clients there in droves, then rightly so. Look back to our February issue, Las Vegas Spa Retreats; The Still-Single Mingle in Vegas (April); Dining’s Not A Gamble in Vegas, in the July issue; and Striking Gold with Vegas’ Golden Gate in the August 2012 issue, and you’ll have plenty of information to plan your clients’ getaway to this booming destination. In fact, since 2010, there has been more than $9.2 billion reinvested in the destination with remodeled hotels, new restaurants, museums and entertainers, and there are currently more than 150,000 hotel rooms.
in other hotel news
In fact, adding to that hefty number of hotel rooms in Vegas is the new D Las Vegas Casino Hotel (thed.com). Formerly known as Fitzgeralds Casino & Hotel, the property has been completely remodeled and boasts a 2-level casino, 624 modernized rooms and Long Bar—the longest bar in Nevada—that stretches the entire length of the first-floor casino.
This year, Vegas’ beloved MGM Grand (thegrandrenovation.com) completed its $160 million room and suite overhaul in the hotel’s main tower. The property now possesses 3,570 Grand King and Queen guestrooms and 642 suites that include Skyline Terrace and Skyline Marquee suites.
Far from the maddening crowd, in the Lake Las Vegas area (about 20 miles from the Strip), is the newly rebranded 493-room Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa (starwoodhotels.com). Formally a Loews, the Westin is now part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which means every room was remodeled with the chain’s signature Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Bath interior design. Outdoor activities abound with two sprawling pools, a waterslide for the kiddies, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. The hotel’s Spa Moulay not only offers guests signature treatments, but your client’s four-legged friend can also relax with a massage after a day of ball chasing.
Now to where the sun shines, and the beach beckons—Miami. This year, the South Florida destination saw an influx of new hotels popping up in South Beach, including the SLS Hotel South Beach (slshotels.com), the Lord Balfour (lordbalfourmiami.com), Gale South Beach (galehotel.com), and the soon-to-rise Lennox Hotel, located across the street from the Setai.