Sunshine getaways for less
Right about now thousands of Canadians are looking out the window and thinking the same thing: Brrrrrrrrrrrr. While we love our wintery getaways and snowy activities, our thoughts can’t help but turn south to crisp waters and sandy beaches.
However, winter jaunts to warmer climates are a luxury many people are doing without this year, and that’s hurting places that rely on tourist income. But there is good news: the balance of supply-and-demand is now shifting in the traveller’s favour and deals are becoming more common. If you’re got room in your budget for travel, you might just find your dollars going farther this year (in more ways than one!)
So where are the hot deals? Forbes.com just released its list of Affordable Places to Escape the Cold including:
The United States
If you’ve been watching the news over the past few months, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Las Vegas, Orlando and Maui, Hawaii all made the list. These areas continue to be hit by the economic turndown, and a lack of tourist income isn’t helping the situation.
What makes these popular tourists spots a deal this year? Experts note that prices aren’t rebounding after the summer slump thanks to travellers opting to stay home (or closer to home) instead. Traditional hotspots like Vegas and Florida aren’t expecting the huge numbers of visitors that they’re used to getting so they’re discounting their rates to get those numbers up again. Watch for deals from big players like Disney and MGM.
Even Hawaii — which isn’t known for being a budget-friendly destination — is dolling out the incentives thanks to a drop in flights since September. Resorts are offering attractive deals like free credits for food, activities and even spa treatments. While Forbes favours Maui, Lonely Planet lists Hawai’i (the Big Island) as one of its Top 10 Regions for 2009 because the island is less crowded and less expensive than its neighbours.
But are these really good deals for Canadians with our weaker dollar? Remember, the US relies on foreign visitors for tourist income, and selling to Canadians is big business. Watch for deals specifically aimed at Canadians (and other incoming visitors) and evaluate deals carefully. For example, VisitFlorida.com has a Hot Deals for Canadians section.
California is another place to look for potential deals. According to the state’s tourism bureau, Canadians spent an estimated $961 million in there in 2007 — making Canada the second biggest international market following Mexico. For packages, see VisitCalifornia.com.
It’s always been a popular destination for Canadians and Americans alike, but this year the deals can be found outside of the major tourist areas. In particular, Forbes recommends bypassing Cancun and Ixtapa and heading down the coast to Zihuatanejo or T ulum instead. Not only will the costs be lower, but the atmosphere will be mellower than party-centric tourist areas, and there will be more local flavour. Tourism is on the rise in those areas, but they’ll still be less crowded than more traditional destinations.
For more information about Mexico, see VisitMexico.com.
Central America and the Caribbean
This year, up-and-coming destination Honduras gets the nod from experts — specifically the island of Roatan. If you’ve ever wanted to learn to dive, this is your place. Not only is it the home of the largest coral reef in North America, it’s also the cheapest place for new diver’s to get certification. Forbes describes the local hotels as “wallet-friendly” and amenities include meals, tropical fiestas and picnics, and equipment and transportation for dives. (Check out LetsGoHonduras.com for details).
Panama is another favourite, particularly Bocas del Toro which travel expert and author Tim Leffel says provides “the charm of the Caribbean Islands without the prices.” Political and economic troubles plagued the region in past decades and slowed tourism growth — meaning that big hotels haven’t yet taken over the area and prices are still lower than other popular places like Costa Rica. (See VisitPanama.com for more ideas).
And where is “the” place to go in the Caribbean this year? The answer: Punta Cana on the east coast of the Dominican Republic. Thanks to a push from the government to bring in more tourists, there’s a variety of all-inclusive resorts lining its shores — 30 different ones to be exact. It’s the place to head if a beach chair and a good book sound appealing. (See GoDominicanRepublic.com for more information).
And while you won’t see it on any list made for a US audience, don’t overlook Cuba. Unless the Obama administration changes the rules, the country is still off-limits to US tourists.
If you’re willing to go a little further, try Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Brazil’s economy is also taking a nose dive with the national currency dropping nearly 40 per cent over the last year. While you likely won’t get a deal on the 12 hour flight, discounted hotel rooms and deals in restaurants will greet you when you land. Activities like chartering a helicopter and or visits to the national museum will cost less than you think.
Other ways to save
Should a list dictate your travel plans? These destinations are a just a few suggestions. Regardless of where you’d like to go, there are other things to consider to get the best deal:
Look for last minute deals: If you’ve got the flexibility and aren’t fussy about location, set aside a week or two for your vacation and watch for deals. Another bonus: since you aren’t planning months ahead, you can choose not to book at all if the economy makes you nervous. (See Last minute travel deals for more information).
Subscribe: Take some of the effort out of shopping by subscribing to updates from websites like Redflagdeals.com and Travelalerts.ca. They’ll notify you when deals come up. If you’re concerned about giving out your email address, opt for RSS instead.
Consider a cruise: Cruise companies are still hurting due to the economy, and experts note that you shouldn’t have to pay full price for a cruise this year. Watch for the discounts and consult with a travel agent who specializes in cruises (especially if it’s your first time). Make sure to factor in any surcharges and extra fees.
According to cruise expert Anne Campbell in a recent article on Tripso.com, this could be the year for that Mediterranean or Baltic cruise you’ve been dreaming about. Cruise lines around the world are facing the same problem, so there are some good deals to be had if you’re willing to take a longer flight.
Fight for the difference: Did you book a trip only to watch it go on sale a month later, or paid a hefty fuel surcharge only to watch oil prices plummet? According to travel experts like Arthur Frommer it’s unlikely that you’ll get cash back… but it never hurts to ask. Some companies (cruise lines in particular) may offer compensation like free drink credits or extra excursions. Just be prepared for a few calls and some frustration.
Buyer beware: While there are a lot of attractive discounts to be found, vacation scams are still going strong and it can be hard to tell the difference. See Vacation scams: What you need to know to find out what warning signs to watch out for.
Drive across the border, and then fly. If you live within easy driving distance of a US airport, consider it in your pre-trip comparison shopping. According to Forbes.com, many US carriers are discounting their flights in order to fill seats.
Book with a good agent. Chances are prices may continue to drop after you’ve purchased your trip so experts still recommend seeking out the services of an expert travel agent who can fight for an upgrade.
Regardless of where you go and how you travel, the prevailing advice from experts is to shop around for value. Price alone shouldn’t dictate your plans because your time is the most important thing. (What good is a discount if the food is terrible and you hate the accommodations?) Instead, look for deals from mid to high end companies.
The current prediction is that rates will fall into 2009, so keep your eyes open!
Photo © The Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism