Travel predictions for 2012: Doom and gloom may boost tourism

7 Jan

Toss in potential European bargains courtesy of the continent’s financially strapped PIGS (a derogatory acronym referring to Portugal, Ireland/Italy, Greece and Spain) and a slumping euro that just hit its lowest level against the dollar in 16 months, and it’s no wonder “doom and gloom” tourism might be on the upswing this year.

But plenty of other destinations and trends will influence American travelers’ hard-earned time and money in the months ahead. Among them:

London is calling 

Still preening after last year’s royal nuptials (the city, likeDuchess Catherine, looked radiant), London will host the Summer Olympic Games July 27-Aug. 12. A three-month-long arts festival kicks off June 21, and Hyde ParkTrafalgar Square and Victoria Park will beam live broadcasts of the games on giant outdoor screens for those who don’t have tickets.

The first week in June, meanwhile, Great Britain celebrates Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne with a Diamond Jubilee.

Hawaii says ‘aloha’ to more flights 

With 2012 shaping up as another strong year for tourism to Hawaii, don’t expect a wave of bargains.

But with Hawaiian Airlines launching nonstop service from New York City this summer, Alaska Airlines “ready to expand and dominate” the West Coast market and a big wild card of possible new service via Allegiant and/or Southwest, U.S. visitors likely will have more options for getting there, says the deal-watcher blog


U.S. anniversary celebrations 

Elsewhere in the USA, both Arizona (Feb. 14) and New Mexico (today) are commemorating 100 years of statehood. San Francisco‘s iconic Golden Gate Bridgeturns 75 in May, with a lineup of lectures, performances, exhibits and film screenings plus a revamped visitor plaza that features better trail connections, more seating and (assuming the fog hasn’t rolled in) improved views.

Off-limits vacation spots are back on the map maybe 


Forbidden fruit to most U.S. tourists since 1961, Cuba reopened for limited “people to people” exchanges last year. But while demand has been strong, it’s still too soon to break out the stogies and mojitos for beach vacations: Visitors must travel as part of a group with a humanitarian/cultural/educational focus, and tight U.S. restrictions have forced some companies that had planned to offer trips to cancel or put them on hold.

On the other side of the globe, Japan and Thailand are hoping for a rebound from last year’s earthquakes and flooding — and Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is shaping up as Asia’s “it” destination for 2012. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited late last year, and an organization founded by activist Aung San Suu Kyi now welcomes responsible tourism to a long-isolated country that some tour operators are touting as the Thailand of 50 years ago.


Google and Facebook continue to flex their travel muscles 

After months of teeth-gnashing from worried rivals, Google’s flight search engine had its coming-out party last fall. While its features remain more limited than those of competitors such as Kayak and Hipmunk (only domestic flights, for starters), “Google has shown it intends to be a market maker. It will continue to evolve what they have and come up with new travel tools in 2012, and a lot of that will be mobile,” says travel analyst Henry Harteveldt at Atmosphere Research Group.

Facebook, meanwhile, is on track to reach 1 billion users worldwide in early 2012, and a stampede of travel-centric Web and mobile apps are trying to leverage that popularity for their own social media purposes. Whether they’ll succeed is another question: “The (social media) challenge for travel companies is to give people a compelling reason to engage with them, and realize that we’re not friending them because we like them, but out of greed,” says Harteveldt.

Same-night hotel bookings take off 

Hoping to target bargain-hunting, smartphone-wielding travelers — and tapping into a buy-now trend enabled by better, location-based technology — more hotels and online agencies are beefing up their tonight-only deals. Priceline, Orbitz and Hotel Tonight are among those that have launched or broadened same-night offerings recently. And with an average 40% of hotel rooms going empty each night, expect even more in 2012.

Vacation rentals go mainstream 

Already popular with DIY travelers looking for lodging bargains and second-home owners trying to recoup some of their real estate losses, vacation rentals will be a bigger focus for such major online agencies as Expedia and Priceline, predicts travel technology columnist Dennis Schaal. And, in the wake of last summer’s well-publicized tale of a botched San Francisco rental arranged through, expect a greater emphasis on safeguards for both hosts and guests.

Airline passengers keep singing the “middle seat blues” but will have a clearer idea of what they’re paying 

In an era of contraction and mergers, empty airplane middle seats “are so last decade,” notes’s Rick Seaney. Yet while travelers will likely see fewer flights to smaller cities and an even tighter time frame for nabbing those elusive bargain fares, the government wants to help them skip the “sticker shock” of being tantalized by a low price only to discover that extra fees and taxes add 20% or more to the final cost.

Barring a last-ditch attempt by some airlines to block it, a U.S. Transportation Department rule taking effect Jan. 26 will require airlines to include all government taxes and fees in their advertised fares. Other provisions, which let passengers hold or cancel reservations within 24 hours and which bar post-purchase price increases, kick in Jan. 24.

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