CHICAGO, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- U.S. travelers in 2013 can expect better WiFi at cruising altitude, less time at the baggage carousel and the opportunity to travel with a clear social conscience, travel industry experts say.
Travel has always been known as good for the soul although not necessarily the pocketbook, but the U.S. Travel Association is promoting the idea that travel is good for the heart.
The association, which represents the U.S. travel industry, has started a new campaign to promote travel as an essential part of our lives, rather than a luxury. A report posted on the group's new website Traveleffect.com says an annual vacation can cut a person's risk of heart attack by 50 percent and women who take more vacations are more satisfied with their marriages.
The new "Travel Effect" campaign is aimed at helping people understand the impact travel has on relationships, health, education, business and communities.
"What we've long known anecdotally, we will prove through authoritative research: travel has a measurable and positive effect on health, relationships, business performance and the well-being of communities," said Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association, in announcing the campaign last week. "And since travel supports 14.4 million American jobs and $1.9 trillion in economic output, the more we get people traveling in the U.S., the more we can improve our well-being as a nation."
Travelers can improve their social-consciousness by choosing destinations that rate high from an ethical standpoint.
Barbados, Uruguay and Lithuania are among the top ethical travel suggestions for 2013 suggested by the non-profit group Ethical Traveler, which calls on vacationers to seek destinations in the developing world that demonstrate "a clear and continuing commitment to environmental protection, human rights and social welfare."
Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Ghana, Latvia, Mauritius, Palau and Samoa also made the list, which was released last month.
"Every dollar we spend is a statement about which countries and governments we choose to support," Executive Director Jeff Greenwald said in a statement. "By visiting the countries on our list, savvy travelers can have great vacations and promote the values we all share."
Travel and Leisure says millennials are an increasingly important segment in the the travel industry.
The magazine says many travelers in their 20s and 30s are looking for authenticity over thread count and luxury tour operators are adjusting their offerings accordingly.
Airfarewatchdog.com founder George Hobica predicts more airline mergers this year, higher airline ticket prices and more bundled fares. Hobica says there may be fewer regional jets flying this year because they tend to be gas guzzlers.
Increased fees, higher fares and security headaches could lead to fewer airline passengers as people look for alternate modes of transportation. Non-U.S. airlines, however, could see an increase in passengers as they expand their U.S. service, he said.
Hobica predicts a major U.S. airline will soon add a fee for carry-on bags, similar to what is already being done by Spirit and Allegiant.
"My crystal ball is older than an American Airlines MD 80, so it could be a bit cloudy," Hobica said in a statement. "My most bold prediction is, of course, that a major U.S. airline will add a carry-on bag fee. But that idea was put in my head by my best friend's brother-in-law, who manages gates at a United hub. Quoth he: 'It's coming.'"
Connectivity is becoming increasingly important as smart phone-obsessed consumers demand 24/7 access to WiFi. United Airlines last week announced the introduction of onboard satellite-based WiFi Internet connectivity on the first of its international widebody aircraft. United says it is the first U.S.-based international carrier to offer customers WiFi on long-haul overseas routes.
United has outfitted Ku-band satellite WiFi on two Airbus 319 aircraft serving domestic routes, offering customers faster inflight Internet service than air-to-ground technology. The company says it expects to complete installation of the service on 300 mainline aircraft by the end of this year.
The convenience, however, comes with a cost. Travelers will have the choice of two WiFi speeds at prices ranging from $3.99 to $19.99.
American Airlines says it is also boosting connectivity as it continues investments to offer inflight WiFi, in-seat entertainment and universal AC power outlets at every seat.
The airline said Thursday it plans to supply flight attendants, pilots and maintenance workers with tablets that will offer real-time information.
United is joining American Airlines in offering travelers the option of having their checked bags delivered directly to their final destinations, allowing customers to skip baggage claim upon arrival. United says baggage delivery will initially be available to customers departing from any domestic airport and arriving in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles and Orlando. The airline plans to expand the service to more than 190 domestic airports.
"United's new baggage delivery service offers an alternative for travelers who prefer the convenience of having their checked bags delivered directly to their homes, offices or hotels," said Tom O'Toole, United's senior vice president of marketing and loyalty, in a statement. "Our customers have told us this type of option adds value to their travel experience."
The cost for delivery within a 40-mile radius of the airport starts at $29.99, United said.
The U.S. travel industry is starting to pay more attention to the Hispanic market.
"The emerging Hispanic market is expected to wield up to $1.5 trillion in spending power by 2015, which represents a significant opportunity for the rebounding U.S. travel industry," said Victor Owens, vice president and general manager for Hotels.com North America, in a release. "We've made a concentrated effort to better connect with our U.S. Hispanic customers."
Family travel was a significant trend among customers who booked hotels on the company's Spanish-language website. Hotels.com said family-oriented theme parks helped put Orlando, Fla., on the top of the travel list, followed by Miami and New York City as the top travel destinations for Hispanics last year. Las Vegas and Puerto Rico rounded out the top 5.
Mobile apps and online booking sites are making it easier for last-minute travelers to find a good deal. Hotwire.com said a survey conducted last fall suggests 71 percent of Americans believe booking a last-minute leisure trip costs more than booking one further in advance. Actually, pricing trends suggest hotels are offering their lowest prices on the day of check-in.
Hotwire says large hotels in major cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco adjust their prices on a daily, or sometimes hourly, basis. When hotel demand doesn't materialize, hotels discount heavily on the day of check-in as a last ditch attempt to fill the empty rooms.
"Folks visiting major metropolises are typically wary of waiting until the last minute to book a hotel because they're worried about being able to find an affordable room in a prime location," said Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group. "But in reality, hoteliers are dropping prices right up until the day of check in to attract last-minute bookings, with more and more coming from mobile devices."
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