But 2008 promises to be better, according to Pauline Frommer, of Pauline Frommer Travel Guide fame.
On The Early Show Friday, she told Russ Mitchell there's light at the end of the tunnel: Air travel may well improve.
The Federal Aviation Administration is setting caps on the number of planes allowed to fly into and out of Newark Liberty Airport and JFK Airport in the New York metropolitan area. That's huge, not just for New Yorkers, but for the entire country, because 25 percent of all airline delays in the United States originate in those two airports and New York's third major facility, LaGuardia, (where caps are already in place. So, if delays are lessened there, you'll also see good results in Chicago, in Denver, in Los Angeles, etc. This will ripple through the system. And I think this plan will be effective: A similar one was put in place in Chicago several years back, and delays were cut immensely.
We're also seeing some improvements in on-board amenities. A number of carriers, including JetBlue, Virgin America and American Airlines, will have WiFi available on planes in 2008 (JetBlue already has one plane with it). Southwest, Alaska Air, Qantas, Qatar Airlines, Lufthansa, Delta and United are probably next on the runway with this advance; many are already testing the technology in anticipation of a roll-out.
The number of hidden fees being added in all sectors of the travel industry is staggering, and only going to get worse. "It's getting ugly," she told Mitchell. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, hotels in 2007 charged $2 billion in hidden hotel fees, up from $1.6 billion in 2006 and just $550 million four years ago. In my own research, which involves talking to dozens of hotels in many cities, updating my guidebooks, I've been finding more onerous cancellation fees (hotels requiring notice up to a week or two weeks in advance, rather than the once-standard 24-hour notice), more resort fees (for the presence of pools and gyms; doesn't matter if you use them), more add-on fees for room service, and even fees for delivering a package to a room, and for turn-down service in the evening. The island of Jamaica is encouraging all of its hoteliers to add a $10-per-night fuel surcharge to rooms (two on-island chains have opted out), and many of the cruise lines recently added $10-per-day fuel surcharges, which have sparked a lawsuit by passengers.
The weak dollar is finally having an affect on travel to Europe. According to a recent United States Tour Operators Association survey, 50 percent of its members have reported a drop-off in European bookings for 2008. In terms of Frommer's book sales, we've seen huge increases in interest in Latin America. Instead of Europe, it appears many people will be going to Panama, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Peru, and Belize.
HIGH GAS PRICES
"Folks are staying closer to home," Frommer told Mitchell. "They're visiting their local parks Instead of going to the great big names in national parks, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, they're staying closer to home, taking smaller drives and shorter vacations. If you've ever wanted to see the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone or Yosemite, or any of the other big names ... this is year to do it."
There will be 35 ships debuting in 2008, of which I'd call nine "major" cruise ships (many of the others are simply small yachts from the tiny fleets that do lake cruising and the like). Those nine, of which one is the recently-debuted Cunard's Victoria, will add more than 22,000 berths to the marketplace, meaning cruise agents will have to recruit an additional 1.25 million passengers next year to fill them. Though cruising had a record year in 2007, with approximately 12.5 million vacationers cruising, I think it will be difficult for agents to deal with this glut. So, I'm predicting a drop in cruise pricing for 2008, at least toward the end of the year, when all of these new ships will be afloat. How much of a drop will depend on the destination, the age of the ship, and the itinerary, but I wouldn't be surprised if some Caribbean sailings drop in price to between $40 and $50 per-person, per day.
"A lot of people are getting very angry with these hidden hotel fees and ... rising (hotel) prices," Frommer observed. So, we should see a continuation of the increased use of alternative accommodations With average hotel prices up 5.6 percent over last year, according to AAA, many travelers are looking to such alternative accommodations -- apartment rentals, home rentals, private B&B's (rooms they rent within people's homes), even monasteries, and more, rather than hotels. In updating our guidebooks, I've found that a number of rental companies have upped the number of offerings they have by a full 25 percent in the last two years. Go to sites such as VRBO.com, and you'll find they now have more than 90,000 properties to rent, a significant increase. I spoke with the folks at HomeAway.com, and they've seen a boom in this type of travel, as well. When they launched in June 2006, they represented 55,000 rentals. Today, they have over 100,000 available to travelers. Interhome, one of the largest of the international vacation home rental agencies, told me they've seen a ten percent increase in the number of visitors to its site in the past year; they currently represent 30,000 apartments and rentals.