Travel Trends: What's Hot for 2008

NEW YORK (AP) - Travel in 2007 was marked by high gas prices, new passport rules, record lows for the dollar, and record-high air travel.

In 2008, experts say, Americans may take shorter trips or choose destinations closer to home where their dollar goes further.

But they will still travel. The Conference Board's most recent consumer survey found 45.8 percent of Americans intend to take a vacation within six months, down just a tad from 46.4 percent a year ago.

"When there's a slowdown in the economy, travel only slows slightly," said Douglas Shifflet of D.K. Shifflet & Associates, which tracks travel trends. "The amount of time people spend on vacations and in hotels is hit harder. They make tradeoffs; they stay closer to home or with friends and relatives."

"They'll look for other ways to save, like taking a day or two off of their trip," agreed Amy Ziff, Travelocity editor-at-large.

International hot spots for '08 include Beijing; Central America; Italy, Eastern Europe and Lisbon, Portugal. But domestic travel could benefit from the weak dollar and other trends. Visits to national parks were up 1.3 percent, January-September 2007, compared with the previous year, with Yosemite and Yellowstone adding more than a quarter-million visitors. Lonely Planet, the guidebook publisher, picked the U.S. as its No. 1 destination for 2008.

"The euro has made it expensive for U.S. travelers to take their European dream vacation, so they're looking at their own backyard paradise, with holidays that include national parks and Hawaii," said Lonely Planet spokeswoman Christina Tunnah.

"I think we'll see an increase in domestic travel and people looking for really good deals - for example, places where they can stay four nights and get a fifth night free," said Ziff.

Fiona Lake Waslander, director of Yahoo Travel, predicted more trips to "small, weekend-type destinations, with people staying closer to home and doing shorter getaways." Lancaster, Pa., in Amish country, had the biggest gains in page views on Yahoo Travel Guides among domestic destinations in 2007.

Here are more details on travel in 2008.

The year 2007 is on track to be the busiest ever. Domestic airlines carried a record 582 million passengers January-September, 3.6 percent more than the same period in 2006. Twenty-four percent of flights arrived late January-October, the second-worst delays on record.

In 2008, if the system continues at capacity, "two-hour delays will become the new normal," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.

Federal regulators have proposed reducing the number of flights at JFK as a first step in cutting delays. But that would decrease options for travel through JFK, and airfares could go up as a result.

There will be more option on flights to London, though, when the Open Skies Agreement takes effect March 28. It allows a half-dozen carriers to add direct flights to Heathrow from Atlanta, JFK, Houston, Newark, Philadelphia, Dallas and Los Angeles.

The State Department issued a record 18.4 million passports in fiscal year 2007, compared to 12.1 million in 2006. Thirty percent of Americans now hold passports, up from 27 percent.

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