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Looking Ahead: Trends 2002
Specialty Travel Index

by Risa R. Weinreb

Feeling stressed, ready for a change, and in need of a mountain vista, a once-in-a-lifetime safari… or just a long visit with mom and dad?

You’re not the only one
Look for the word “close” to figure in American vacation vocabularies for 2002: people plan to travel close to home, with close family members, and in close proximity to the wonders of nature, from the purple mountains’ majesty to pods of whales and dolphins.

“If you know the term ‘comfort food’ – it’s almost like comfort travel,” remarks Judy Randall of Randall Travel Marketing, an independent research company. “People will be going to places that are maybe not as far away, and doing things that are ‘feel-good’ travel.”

Encouraging Signs
Although U.S. travel for 2001 dropped by 3.5% over the figures for the previous year according to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), Randall foresees a lot of good news for the coming year. “For 2002, I think we’ll see an increase – but it won’t exceed the levels of 2000,” she adds.

In particular, adventure and special interest travel have proved resilient in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. This strength was evidenced at specialtytravel.com, the companion website to this magazine. Although the number of visitor per day dropped nearly 25% in the week following the September assaults, figures were above pre-September levels by November and December. According to industry observers, the segment rebounded quickly because of the demographics of its travelers: the special-interest clientele tends to be better educated, wealthier, and more widely traveled than the population at large.

“Adventure travelers came back, because they are, in fact, adventurous,” observes Robert Swan, general manager of Borton Overseas. “Although they’re concerned about danger… they’re quick to say, ‘You know what – I’m going anyway.”’

Many tour operators are reporting sales close to last year’s. At Country Walkers, a company which offers world-wide walking and snow shoeing tours, bookings for 2002 are actually up 53.6%. “I think it’s an anomaly – but it’s a very pleasant anomaly for us,” notes Bob Ellsasser, president.

Although there’s much talk about people being afraid to get on an airplane, Judy Randall thinks that that apprehensions will soon vanish into thin air. “The bottom line is time poverty. Even if people are a little nervous, they’ll fly, because there’s no alternative to getting there in a short amount of time.”

Where are people going – and why? Here are the big trends shaping up for vacations in 2002, according to major tour operators and industry experts.

Travel in North America:
“By the end of this year, I think there are going to be a whole lot of people who discover that you don’t have to fly over a large body of water to see some absolutely spectacular scenery,” says Bob Ellsasser of Country Walkers.

Across the board, tour operators concur that bookings for North America are up considerably for 2002. At Backroads, which offers over 140 biking, walking and multi-sport itineraries worldwide, “North America is attracting 40% of all new bookings, while Europe accounts for almost 35%,” comments Julie Snyder, director of public relations and promotions. In 2000, by contrast, Europe accounted for nearly 40% of the total, and North America 20%. “The normal ‘big sellers’ continue to be strong – California wine country, the canyonland areas of Arizona and Utah, Canadian Rockies, and the San Juan Islands.”

Back to Nature
While travel to U.S. national parks is a perennial favorite (15% of all U.S. adults visit a national park during the past year, according to TIA), “Summer 2002 is lining up to be a very strong season,” confirms Lisa Bishop, director of sales and marketing for Grand Teton Lodge Company. Since many national parks offer reasonably priced cabin accommodations and RV and camping sites, they should also appeal to budget-minded travelers during the current economic recession.

Tour operators also report keen interest in river-rafting trips. “The Grand Canyon is always our strongest program – trips sell out two years in advance,” remarks Brian McCutcheon, director of marketing for O.A.R.S. “Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Yellowstone, Western Canada, and Alaska are other strong points.”

People opting to travel by car are also helping drive up the popularity of North American destinations. Adding bounce to the rubber tire market are lower gasoline prices, with fuel expected to average about $1 per gallon nationwide for summer 2002.

Family Travel
A mother brings her two daughters to a cooking school in France. Twenty relatives turn out for a “roots reunion” in Scandinavia, visiting the towns where their great-grandparents had been born… The September 11 attacks have spurred one-third of all Americans to spend more time with their families and friends, according to a CBS News/New York Times survey.

“We’ve been seeing a trend towards family travel for over two years,” notes Dan Blanchard, president of American Safari Cruises, which offers small-yacht cruises in Alaska, California wine country, Baja California, and Central America. What’s different, though, is that family travel is becoming even more multi-generational, with grandparents in their 70s and 80s taking along the whole clan – right down to toddlers. Helena Koenig, owner and founder of Grandtravel, which runs trips exclusively for grandparents with their grandchildren, also finds tighter family ties on tour. “We’re selling a lot of Kenya, Alaska, Hawaii – those are the heaviest booking patterns so far.”

“Nature as Therapy”
“For the first time in history, people believe that the wilderness is actually safer than civilization,” Judy Randall states. “Nature-based travel continues to grow.” Destinations with strong appeal will be “pretty places, and also areas with good wildlife viewing,” including Alaska, Santa Fe, mountain areas, U.S. national parks, and prime beach areas.

Call of the Wild
The grandeur of nature has also helped many people cope after September 11. “People are busy, stressed, overworked – they just really need a chance to truly get away,” observes McCutcheon of O.A.R.S.

The ultimate wildlife viewing experience – an African safari – is also booking well, even though the continent is distant and exotic. “The Serengeti migrations are drawing a lot of attention this year. There also seems to be stronger interest in climbing Kilimanjaro than in past seasons,” states Swan from Borton Overseas. Interestingly enough, about 80% of the people who have been reserving are women, often traveling with lady friends. “We’re seeing all these women in their forties with chutzpah, who want to go out and do adventure travel.”

The leading trends – travel in North America, family vacations, back-to-nature explorations – are so dominant, their influence ripples through the rest of our Travel Top Ten.

Cruises / Yacht Charters
If you float it, they will come – from the Inside Passage of Alaska to the fjords of Norway and the icebergs of Antarctica. Although occupancy levels on cruise ships foundered immediately following the terrorist attacks, cruise agents today are booking more than 80 percent as many cruises as they were before September 11, according to the International Council of Cruise Lines.

In particular, small cruise ships are finding smooth sailing into summer of 2002. “It’s booming, it’s huge,” says Kristy Royce, vice president of ExpeditionTrips.com, which books small-ship cruises worldwide. “Small ships appeal to people who really want to experience a destination. ‘You’ve changed by life – this is the best thing I’ve ever done,’ they say after they get back.”

Yacht charters are also performing well. “Families fee safe and secure in the comfort of a smaller yacht, where they can be close together and spend time under the stars,” notes Julie Nicholson, an owner of Nicholoson Yacht Charters. “It’s that type of cozy holiday that’s more popular in these kind of times.”

Military and History Tours
Yesterday is the travel wave of the future. “I think when you consider all the things that have happened through the past few months, there’s a heightened awareness of patriotism,” state Les Rodman, owner/operator of Americana Tours, which runs customized history programs. “More and more people are also involved with genealogy, and interested in how their families fit into the Civil War or Revolutionary War.”

“We’ve noticed a gradual increase in interest for the last 27 years, especially since World War II films such as ‘Saving Private Ryan’ came out,” explains Bob Reynolds, founder and president of Valor Tours. “In particular, there’s interest among the sons and daughters of people who fought in World War II.” For 2002, Valor has programs marking the 60th anniversary of important battles, including Guadalcanal, the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, plus the 60th anniversary of the American air force in England.

Latin America
“Everybody’s wanting to go south – Baja, Galapagos, the Amazon,” declares Kristy Royce of ExpeditionTrips.com.

“Remote places such as the Galapagos are considered to be more secure than let’s say, Las Vegas or Disney World,” remarks Doris Welsh, director of sales and marketing for Galapagos Network. Increasingly, travelers are opting for full-week Galapagos cruises, rather than three – or four-day itineraries. According to Welsh, “The Galapagos is truly a once-in-a-lifetime destination. When people go, they really want to see everything.”

Sports Tours
Sports tours are also shaping up as a strong trend for 2002. “People really enjoy being part of all the to-do and hoopla that go along with these events,” explains Stacy Morken, director of operations for Sports Events, Ltd. In line with the powerful trend towards North American travel, in 2002 spectators are preferring to attend U.S. events, such as the Masters (April 11 – 14), Kentucky Derby (May 4), and Indianapolis 500 (May 26), rather than traveling abroad.

“Alaska’s hot – everyone’s wanting to go to Alaska,” confirms Kristy Royce of ExpeditionTrips.com. Dan Blanchard from American Safari Cruises agrees. “We’re expecting to be sold out. Bookings are starting to come in almost at the same pace as last year.” In particular, the company has had great success adding longer itineraries. “We’ve had so much demand for longer trips that we’ve added 14- and 17-night cruises. We’re surprised how well those are booking.”

“We’re getting calls from people saying ‘I’ve had a lot of drama in my life recently, and I want to go to a place where I’m going to be taken care of and I don’t have to think,’” relates Pete Ellis, chairman and CEO of Spa Finder, a reservation service which works with about 750 spas.

Although after September 11 people were seeking out spas within driving distance of home, that pattern started shifting in late November. People once again started to book into “travel-to” spas, especially in Arizona, Utah, Florida, and Mexico, Ellis notes.

Mind, Body and Spirit
While traditional spa treatments like massages and facials remain popular, “There’s an increased interest in the spiritual aspect,” states Annika Chane, general manager of Mii amo, the spa of Enchantment Resort in Sedona. “People are really starting to come to the morning ritual that we do in the Crystal Grotto – a five- to ten-minute meditation. And, in the past few months, we’ve done more past-life regressions than ever before. I think people are looking for alternate healing therapies.”

Mii amo has also seen an upsurge in male guests. “We’ve been surprised by the number of single, professional men coming for a full spa program. I think that [September 11] put a big turn on the whole world, and people are wanting to get back into basics.”

Cooking Schools
For some people, a comfort trip literally takes the form of comfort food – and attending a cooking school.

“Since 9 11, people’s attention has turned to home and hearth. There’s nothing that shows love for your family and friends more than preparing wonderful food for them,” explains Riki Senn, cooking school director of The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

According to Mary Beth Clark, founder of the International Cooking School of Italian Food & Wine, participants find the extended family feel of Italy especially enticing right now. “Italian food is everyone’s adopted family cuisine. There are very few people who don’t have a favorite pasta dish.”

Other travel patterns are emerging for 2002. A major factor: people will be looking out for deals and discounts, as airlines, hotels, rental car companies, and attractions seek to woo back travelers. Gaming destinations such as Las Vegas will make a comeback. “People want to take a break from reality,” Randall notes.

A different form of reel life is also animating what Randall calls “the movie effect”: traveling to places where movies were shot. “People enjoy going to movies right now – it’s an escape – and the places look so beautiful and wonderful, people just want to go there.”

Most importantly, Americans’ travel plans are starting to look typically normal. Travelers are still bunking down in the ice hotel in Sweden… cuddling koalas in Australia… sea kayaking in Fiji… biking through Provence, Tuscany, and Portugal.

Getting Away From it All
After September 11, many Americans are finding more than ever – to lose themselves in the beauty of nature; to find themselves by connecting with different people and cultures.

Even Judy Randall, the pragmatic researcher, takes time to contemplate the power of travel. “Travel and tourism has always been to me a way to bridge understanding. When they travel, people literally walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and understand that world that they live in. That would be my wish and hope for the traveling public in 2002. Yes – use their travel experiences to reunite with friends and family. But also they should step out a bit, experience the world, and see it from the other guy’s perspective.”