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What will the travel scene be like in 2009?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


January 06, 2009

To predict the hot travel destinations for 2009, just follow the money. Wherever Americans can get good value for their bucks, that's where travel experts expect them to be flocking in the new year.

For example: Iceland, which was so hard hit by the global credit squeeze that its financial system collapsed and the government wound up taking control of the major banks. The value of the krona has dropped precipitously -- a terrible turn of events for Icelanders, but their misfortune means Iceland is now one of the best travel bargains in Europe.

The country also happens to offer a bonanza of natural wonders -- glaciers, geysers, mountains, volcanoes, the midnight sun and the Northern Lights -- as well as picturesque fishing villages and the modern city of Reykjavik.

There's never been a better time to take it all in, said travel author Pauline Frommer.

"Icelandair is desperate because their own citizens can't afford to fly right now. They are offering great deals," Frommer said, and once travelers arrive, their dollar will buy a lot more than it did a year ago. As of this writing the dollar is worth twice as much as the krona.

The U.S. dollar is also doing much better against other currencies than it has in recent years. The exchange rate is more favorable for the euro, British pound, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar and South African rand, so those countries will be seeing more American tourists.

Even the Mexican peso, which has always been weak against the dollar, has been devalued.

"Literally, if you go anywhere except Japan, the dollar is going to go further," said Frommer.

Her other picks for up-and-coming hot spots:

- Nicaragua. "It's been getting a lot of buzz as the new Costa Rica. It has rain forests, volcanoes and beaches, and it's less expensive and touristy."

- Acapulco is seeing a resurgence. "Cancun feels like it might as well be in the U.S. at this point. Acapulco has more Mexican flavor, and they've been able to bolster their police force, so crime is down."

- Spain. "A lot of interest is being drummed up by the new PBS series with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow," Frommer said, referring to "Spanish Road Trip," in which the two stars basically eat their way across the country in 13 episodes. Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," which opened here in August, didn't hurt, either.

- New Orleans. "Things are really opening up there now," she said. The city is getting back on track and opening some new attractions, notably the Insectarium and the American Cocktail Museum. The food is still great, she said, and tourists can also visit the Ninth Ward and some other places that aren't coming back. "It's still shocking to see," she said.

- Alaska is another domestic spot drawing more attention, mostly due to Gov. Sarah Palin's vice-presidential candidacy. However, it's too soon to know how much of the interest will translate into actual travel, said Ron Peck, president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, a trade group that also handles tourism for the state of Alaska.

"Prior to her becoming a candidate, we had begun a direct mail campaign with a letter from the governor," he said. "The initial response was up 25 percent over the previous year."

But then, he said, they stopped the mailings at the request of the Federal Elections Commission, which said the letter could be construed as campaigning.

"Given the economic uncertainty of our country, I don't project travel prices will go up, due to the Palin effect," Peck said.

United Airlines canceled its twice-daily flights out of Alaska, and the major carrier, Alaska Airlines, doesn't expect its capacity to change, he said.

Of the state's 1.7 million visitors from May to September of this year, 1 million came on a land-tour and cruise package.

"We're very concerned about overall lift and air fares, but the cruise prices have actually dropped," he said. "Some of the sales are in the $499 to $600 range for seven days."

Paul Busang, president of Gulliver's Travels in East Liberty, Pa., said his clients were expressing interest in India (before the terrorist attacks in Mumbai), Dubai, southern Africa and eastern Europe.

"People are expanding where they're going," he said. "We're seeing requests for central and eastern Europe -- Prague and the Czech Republic, Budapest and Hungary, Poland, Romania. They're not on the euro yet. I've been telling people to get there before they make the change."

Busang also is seeing more travel to Russia -- not just getting off a cruise ship for a few days but going there to stay there. "They're looking at four nights in Moscow, four in St. Petersburg, going to the Hermitage and other palaces."


E-mail Sally Kalson at skalson(at)

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