Travel Scene: European trips will be popular in 2013
The outlook for travel next year — both foreign and domestic — is about as good as it gets: The number of trips Americans will take will set a record.
That's the consensus of many travel analysts and travel agency representatives — including those in Rochester — who note that a improving national economy will foster more trips than ever before.
The forecast for 2013 comes on the heels of a banner year for the industry in 2012. Most notable about 2012 is a record 20 million people took a cruise the past 12 months, hotel occupancy in the United States continued its steady growth — it's now at 61.7 percent nationally — and the U.S. led the world in international tourism receipts. The 62.3 million foreign visitors to the U.S. spent an estimated $116.2 billion.
As far as domestic travel is concerned, the U.S. Travel Association — a principal research and economic arm of the travel industry — predicts that travel will increase by close to 1.2 percent, or 23 million trips, to a record level of 2.27 billion trips.
The figures mark a continuation of a favorable trend that started in 2007, with leisure travel up some 4.5 percent from that level.
And very importantly from the standpoint of the nation's economy, the upswing will result in the travel industry adding some 100,000 new jobs, the association predicts.
These reports should bring smiles to many local and regional travel agencies, which have reported increases in bookings for several months now. Fred Bursch, owner of Bursch Travel, which operates 16 offices and two satellite agencies in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Nebraska, is optimistic about 2013 and feels "it will be a good year, especially in the Upper Midwest, where strong agriculture prices have bolstered the economies of rural Main Street."
Bursch, whose holdings represent the largest number of privately owned agencies between the Twin Cities and Seattle, adds the increase in consumer demand is putting pressure on flight availability — the airlines are reluctant to add capacity — and travelers should book early to find space, particularly during prime travel times such as March.
Bursch, whose agency headquarters is in St. Cloud and who owns offices in Rochester, Austin and Northfield, said most of the agencies posted double-digit increases in 2012 "as travelers, both corporate and leisure, returned to traveling." Bursch feels travel to Europe should be strong in 2013 since "pricing hasn't been this good there for five years or more, and many tour companies have actually lowered prices for 2013. While air fares are high, travelers have been shifting to the 'shoulder season' (Spring and Fall) to get the most bang for the buck."
In violence-troubled Mexico, which Bursch just visited, hoteliers are anxious for the return of U.S. tourists.
"The violence (in Mexico) has been confined mostly to border communities, often a thousand miles or more from the major tourist destinations of Cancun and the Riviera Maya," Bursch said.
Carol Dougherty of Rochester's Horizon Travel points to Hawaii, Europe and "of course Mexico" as the most popular destinations locally and advises clients to book early because "airfares are up and planes are full. Additional charges for bags, seats, etc. has become normal with most airlines."
Even Southwest Airlines has joined that group, she notes, while a Delta innovation — comfort seating class — has become very popular.
Best vacation values, Dougherty feels, are found in the all-inclusives, particularly in Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, especially for families.
"Trips to Disney resorts have been big this year, and almost everyone takes their dining plans now," she said. "All told, 2013 should be a busy year for travel with the bookings that are in and the inquiries we are receiving. Again though, travelers should book early."
Spending 'same or more'
Another aspect to 2013 travel is advanced by Travel Leaders Group, whose complement of 1,000-plus agencies throughout the United States report, based on actual bookings, that their clients will "spend the same or more" on trips in 2013 as they did in 2012. And trips to Europe, along with European cruising, is driving much of that spending.
Three of the top five international destinations and half of the top 10 international destinations are European. Demand, according to Steve Loucks, spokesman for the Plymouth, Minn.-based group, is also high as more than 82 percent of the surveyed agents indicate that bookings are on par or greater than this time one year ago.
Loucks added that "London and Rome always draw large numbers of travelers but the biggest surprise was the spectacular increase in European cruises."
European river cruises are now "a hot ticket," he said. Travel Leaders has an agency in Rochester.