A trio of reliably top-selling destinations, say travel advisors, will continue to be top of mind in 2018.
“Alaska has been hot for many years, but 2018 should be a very strong year. Primary reasons we see for this is that it is a more expensive itinerary, and with the economy doing well, more people can afford it who may have put it off before,” says Gary Smith, owner of TravelPerks, a Dream Vacations agency, “and some clients are choosing to focus their travels on U.S. destinations instead of trips overseas, which is increasing the demand.”
According to Smith, there are many reasons clients travel to Alaska, but he says the main ones are a desire to see an unspoiled wilderness and wildlife; a desire to see all 50 states; and cruising on an itinerary they haven’t done.” But “an underlying reason for many people is also that it is a U.S.-based destination, which is a factor for many in today’s world.”
The numbers prove that interest: According to the Alaska Travel Industry Association Visitors Statistics Program, Alaska saw about 1,857,000 out-of-state visitors between May-September 2016 (as of press time, the 2017 visitor numbers were still being compiled). That’s a 4 percent increase from the same time period in 2015.
Amy Madson, independent travel specialist at Cruises, Inc., part of World Travel Holdings, adds that, “Alaska is gaining in popularity because travelers find it a safe destination that doesn’t require international air travel. The lure of beautiful scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities is a major draw to those considering a trip to Alaska.”
“As a cruise specialist, the primary destination in Alaska is an Inside Passage cruise from Seattle. While these cruises only begin to touch on the splendor of Alaska, as they visit only the most southern panhandle, the standard 7-night itineraries are always the most popular,” says Smith. Adding that the “second most popular destination is a trip to Denali as part of a land and sea journey. We always recommend that people spend two nights at the entrance to Denali so that there is time to do the Tundra Wilderness version of the tour into the park. With many cruise lines, the Tundra Wilderness tour is an upgrade to their standard itinerary, so this is a helpful note to your readers. I also think that for the first time, having a brand-new amazing ship like the Norwegian Bliss in Seattle for the Alaska season will bring greater exposure and hence greater demand this coming summer.”
Though cruising is still the biggest draw for those heading to Alaska, Madson notes that the inlands are gaining interest among her clients. “Getting inland to places like Denali and Fairbanks is even more popular now than before. While Alaska is a bucket list item, it is also a ‘one time visit’ for many as well. Because of this, travelers are willing to spend more time exploring the great land of Alaska,” she says. “Add a guided land extension of four days or more and you can travel inland to spectacular Denali or head over to the Yukon in Canada to experience the gold rush history. Booking a packaged cruise/tour gets you the convenience of having your transportation and accommodations pre-arranged, and frequently includes admission to tours and attractions that enhance your experience,” says Madson.
New for 2018 is John Hall’s Alaska Winter Wonders tours, an 8-day itinerary from March 13-20. It includes a 3-night stay in Fairbanks, dog mushing at Trail Breaker Kennels, a walking tour of the Inupiaq community of Evansville, a private charter flight to Bettles, a small town north of the Arctic Circle, and a Northern Lights photo workshop. Visitors will also explore Talkeetna, take curling classes, and go craft beer tasting, plus there’s an option for a spa day or a snowmobile tour of the glaciers and backcountry valleys of the Chugach Mountains. Rates start at $4,459 pp dbl; this tour is limited to 28 guests.
“Vacationers flock to Florida primarily for the theme parks and beaches,” says travel advisor Madson. “Florida is home to beautiful beaches on both coasts and it’s only about a 2-hour drive coast to coast, so you can watch the sunrise on the east in Cocoa Beach and the sunset in the west on St. Pete’s Beach.”
About 60.7 million tourists visited Florida in the first half of 2017, representing a 4 percent increase from the same time period in 2016. The reason, notes Madson, is that “Orlando theme parks keep coming up with new attractions to lure visitors back—Pandora land at Walt Disney World has gained lots of interest and existing events such as Epcot Food & Wine Festival seem to last longer and include more booths each year.”
A top tour option for clients is Cosmo’s 10-day Florida Discovery itinerary, visiting Orlando, Cocoa Beach, Miami, Key West, Fort Myers, St. Augustine, and Cape Canaveral. A 2-day extension allows guests to spend some time in Clearwater, too. Rates start at $1,709 pp.
“A vacation to Hawaii transports visitors back to a time when life was less complicated and hurried,” says Susan Pretkus-Combs, owner of Combs, Catalina & Associates, a Dream Vacations agency. “When they think of Hawaii, they think of stunning, laid-back resorts, beautiful beaches and golf courses, and breathtaking landscapes.”
In August 2017, the last month, as of press time, for which the Hawaii Tourism Authority visitor statistics were available, visitors to the Hawaiian Islands spent a total of $1.39 billion, an increase of 6.1 percent compared to the previous year. Additionally, through the first eight months of 2017, arrivals rose from both the Pacific (+3 percent) and Mountain (+5.8 percent) U.S. regions; and arrivals from U.S. East were up compared to the first eight months of 2016.
“The reasons clients want to visit Hawaii differ somewhat, but it’s mostly about getting away from it all to relax,” points out Pretkus-Combs. “Families want fun in the sun with watersports and beach activities. Couples love the romantic islands for honeymoons, anniversaries or vacations. Where else can you take a bike ride down from a volcano at sunrise or sunset?
“I find that first-timers want to see as many islands as possible, which has made cruising Hawaii so popular. The ability to visit the four most popular islands, spending two days on each with only having to unpack once, is music to most of my clients’ ears,” she says. “For those who have been there before, or just want to spend time on an island or two, I find Maui and Kauai to be the most popular destinations. Both offer lovely beaches, world-class golf courses and plenty of activity. Oahu is having a renaissance of sorts, with the Aulani, A Disney Resort and so many changes and upgrades in Waikiki,” she adds.
Intreprid Travel’s popular 10-day Comfort Style Hawaii Discovery itinerary takes guests island-hopping, combining lounging on the beach in Honolulu and enjoying a beachside barbecue in Maui with exploring Kauai and the Na Pali Coast, the Wailua River and Waimea Canyon. There’s also the opportunity to discover Klauea—an active volcano on the Big Island—and taking a sunset boat ride in Waikiki. Rates start at $3,855 pp.
Alaska Travel Industry Association: alaskatia.org
Aulani, A Disney Resort: disneyaulani.com
Hawaii Tourism Authority: hawaiitourismauthority.org
Intrepid Travel: intrepidtravel.com/us
John Hall’s Alaska: kissalaska.com
VISIT FLORIDA: visitflorida.com