Dusting off a crystal globe: 11 travel trends for 2011

After a recessionary chorus of Homeward Bound, American vacationers are humming On the Road Again - but a fragile economic recovery, coupled with lingering security concerns and hassles, could strike a dissonant chord in 2011. Some prognostications on where and how we'll be plotting trips in the coming year:
Civil War Sesquicentennial: Despite a shortage of federal and state funds - and what continues to be a contentious debate over the conflict's origins - historians and travel promoters are gearing up for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865. Among next year's key events: the April 12 anniversary of the official first shot at Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., (above) and a July 21-24 re-enactment in Manassas, Va., where the war's initial major land battle took place.
Royal romance in London: Already primping for the Summer Olympics and 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's reign in 2012, the United Kingdom's capital anticipates an influx of royal watchers for the April 29 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in Westminster Abbey. Hotels are increasing rates and starting to impose minimum stays, notes Orbitz, and "if Charles and Diana got 600,000 people who came into London for that wedding, I could see a million for this one," guidebook author and travel expert Pauline Frommer told the Associated Press.
CAPTIONBy Kirsty Wigglesworth, AP
South of the border bargains: Deal-laden Las Vegas narrowly eclipses Orlando as top U.S. destination based on 2011 bookings made through the travel agency network Travel Leaders, but Mexico continues to be an international comeback kid: When Travel Leaders agents were asked where they're recommending travelers go to get the most for their dollar, 70 percent said Mexico. Despite a barrage of headlines about escalating drug-related violence, the number of American visitors increased 13.4 percent from January to October of 2010 over the same period in 2009, a year when tourism took a major hit from the drug war and swine flu.
Iceland heats up: Thanks to a currency collapse in 2008 and the flight-grounding antics of an unpronounceable volcano last spring, the North Atlantic island had already been on many American travelers' radar screens. Both the economic crisis and volcanic activity have simmered down, and with Delta's new nonstop service from New York adding seats to those already provided by Icelandair and Iceland Express, Iceland officials are predicting a 20% boost in tourism in 2011. Expect "a favorable Icelandic krona exchange rate of $1 : 110 ISK, as well as cheap eats ($3 hot dog dinner), cheap activities (thermal pool dips for $3), and free natural activities (Northern Lights, which continue through February, and the growing trend of volcano tours)," says Travelzoo.
Cloudy forecast for airfare transparency: Though consumer advocates are cheering a proposed Transportation Department rule that would require U.S. and foreign airline websites to "prominently disclose" all baggage-fee increases and link to a list of optional service fees that can double the final cost of a ticket, what could be a growing trend of airlines pulling fares from online travel agencies in favor of their own sites ""will make airfare shopping harder." notes George Hobica of
Another question mark for 2011: Whether Google will succeed in its proposed acquisition of ITA Software, a company that powers fare searches for Orbitz, Kayak, Bing Travel and other popular travel sites. Proponents say Google's involvement will make searches easier and more convenient, but critics worry it could stifle competition. Earlier this month, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), head of a Senate anti-trust panel, wrote that the $700 million deal "has the potential to greatly impact the robust online air travel search and booking markets relied on by millions of consumers."
Checking into higher hotel rates: While hotels did plenty of wheeling and dealing to put "heads in beds" this year, "the big surprise was how quickly demand returned," particularly in such major cities as New York, Boston and Miami, says Scott Berman, hospitality and leisure leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. As "leverage shifts back from consumers to operators" in 2011, he adds, travelers should expect average daily room rates to increase by nearly 5% - and they'll have to be "much more flexible to get a good deal." Another factor driving rates up, says Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen: A decade-long slowdown in new hotel construction.
Pop-up bargains: As part of what calls "pricing pandemonium," more upscale hotels and resorts will offer short-term, steeply discounted rooms via "flash sales," on members-only sites like Jetsetter, Vacationist and SniqueAway and through social media channels. Driven by the popularity of Groupon and LivingSocial, the "collective buying craze will begin to re-shape demand, particularly for travel service providers who are long on inventory on selected dates and disinclined to spend scarce marketing dollars to drum up demand the old fashioned way," predicts Peter Yesawich of the travel marketing firm Ypartnership.
Online travel gets more social...: The Facebook juggernaut (according to Time, one out of every dozen people on Earth has an account, and last month the site accounted for 1 out of 4 American page views) will play an increasing role in travel - though not necessarily as a way to sell trips, says travel analyst Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research. "I'm not saying Facebook won't matter – how can anything with over 500 million potential customers not matter – but it's been a hard nut to crack when it comes to actually making money" for travel companies, says Harteveldt. "Instead, I think we'll see social travel search/social travel planning emerge as a major trend, thanks to sites that integrate with Facebook." The most notable: TripAdvisor, which just enhanced users' ability to see their Facebook friends' reviews and recommendations first.
...and mobile: It may be premature to dub 2011 the "year of the tablet computer" for travelers, but even before the buzz 
CAPTIONBy OTG Management
about Apple's plans to add a camera to its iPad, it was earning raves as an indispensable travel gadget. That said, "the real focus is still on smart phones" and the immediacy of recommendations available through location-sharing services such as Foursquare, argues Lauren Indvik, an editor at
Travel agents make a comeback: Even as travelers increase their reliance on apps and status updates, the planning process has become so fragmented, confusing and time-consuming that "they want a trusted source who can provide not only guidance , but context. " says Forrester Research's Harteveldt. That rising frustration may fuel the growth of "inspirational" travel sites like newcomer Wanderfly - but as we noted last month, it could also provide a window of opportunity for traditional agents, whose numbers have dropped by the thousands over the last decade.
And, finally, here's a still-nascent trend I'd love to see expand in 2011...
Digital detox vacations: I'll be taking an "unplugged" journey later this month - no TV or in-room phone, let alone iPhone and iPad - and look forward to exploring a place without being short-circuited by technology. As travel journalist Christopher Elliott points out in National Geographic Traveler, "we can almost experience the trip before we step off the plane. Where will we stay? There's an app for that. Recommendations for dinner? There's an app for that, too. What to do right now? Open your browser, and all will be revealed. Whatever happened to exploring, happenstance, and serendipity? That essential, spontaneous part of the vacation is at risk of extinction."