Consumer Corner: Europe's river cruises on a roll

By MICHELLE GROENKE, United Press International
A survey of travel agents suggests European river cruising will be one of the top travel travel trends in 2014. Courtesy: Avalon Waterways.
A survey of travel agents suggests European river cruising will be one of the top travel travel trends in 2014. Courtesy: Avalon Waterways.

European river cruises and exotic locales, such as Cuba and Myanmar, that were not so long ago off-limits to U.S. visitors top the list of expected travel trends for 2014, travel experts say.

A survey of travel agents, conducted by Travel Leaders Group, suggests European river cruising will be hot this year. It landed in the survey's list of the Top 5 international destinations for the first time ever after ranking 21st just three years ago.


"If Europe could find a way to create additional scenic rivers, the travel industry -- and, in particular, our agents -- would be sending even more clients on European river cruises," Travel Leaders Group Chief Executive Officer Barry Liben said in a release. "Demand is definitely outpacing supply even as major river cruise lines build more ships."

Caribbean cruises top the the list of international vacations, followed by Cancun, Mexico, Mediterranean cruises, Rome and European river cruises. Top domestic destinations are Las Vegas, Orlando, Hawaii, Alaska and New York City.


Nearly 86 percent of the travel agents surveyed said they expect 2014 bookings to be on par or greater than 2013 and 94 percent of those surveyed said they expect client spending will be the same or higher in the coming year, up slightly from 2012 and 2013.

The survey, which includes responses from 1,358 U.S.-based travel agency owners, was conducted Nov. 11-Dec. 14.

Up and coming international destinations in Europe include Croatia, Iceland, Turkey, Czech Republic and Portugal. In the Pacific, New Zealand has captured the public's imagination through "The Hobbit" series, putting it ahead of Tahiti, Fiji, Bora Bora and Australia.

Peru is landing on more bucket lists, thanks to Machu Picchu, Travel Leaders said in naming it the top rising destination for Central and South America. Brazil, which is hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympic Games, came in close behind at No. 2.

Vietnam continues to hold the No. 1 spot on the list for Asia and Southeast Asia but Myanmar jumped to No. 2 for 2014.

Liben said Myanmar "is really opening up to tourism, and a growing number of American travelers are responding to its truly exotic allure."

TripAdvisor's 2013 Traveler's Choice award for destination on the rise was Havana, Cuba.


"Despite restrictions on visiting Cuba for Americans, there are now some limited opportunities to visit, such as through educational tours and family visits, that have not ... existed for decades," Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor, said in a statement.

Other exotic destinations at the top of the TripAdvisor list were in Costa Rica, Nepal, Israel and Peru.

TripAdvisor said top destinations on the rise in the United States include Kailua-Kona, Hawaii; Anchorage, Alaska; Destin, Fla.; Bar Harbor, Maine; Santa Fe, N.M.; Jackson, Wyo.; Galveston, Texas, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Moab, Utah, and Gettysburg, Pa.

TripAdvisor, in a separate survey, found travelers may be willing to spend more money 2014 but "free" is the operative word when it comes to hotel amenities.

Travelers said free wireless Internet access, free parking and free breakfast are the most important hotel amenities. Not so important are the mini-bar, spa treatments, business center and laundry service.

Room service is one amenity that may start disappearing from major hotels if they follow the lead of the Hilton Midtown in New York City, which did away with it in August.

Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel, said it's not the worst thing in the world.


"There are so many better options for getting food, especially since room service tends to be way overpriced for what you get," Banas told UPI when the change was announced last year. "Those who appreciate the convenience of room service could always have food delivered to the hotel from a nearby restaurant instead, which also gives you an opportunity to sample more local fare."

Affluent travelers say they plan to take more trips in 2014, according to a study published by MMGY Global and the Harrison Group.

The survey said six percent of leisure travelers have an annual household income of $250,000 or more, compared to four percent in 2010. Within that group, 28 percent said they plan to take more trips in 2014, compared to just 18 percent for all leisure travelers.

Affluent travelers said they took an average of five leisure trips in the past 12 months and spent an average of $9,765 during that time period. They expect to spend $10,585 in 2014.

"These data coincide with a growing sense of optimism on the part of affluent consumers," Steve Cohen, vice president of Insights at MMGY Global, said in a statement. "They reflect their expectation that the economy will continue to improve, and their willingness to spend more on discretionary items and experiences like leisure travel as a result."


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