NEW YORK -- The holiday travel season is shaping up as a
lucrative one. As one top supplier to the Caribbean put it, the
question in mid-November is not "what's hot?" but rather, "what's
Steve Lassman, vice president of sales for Travel Impressions in
Farmingdale, N.Y., said there is very limited availability for its
hottest-selling sun destinations. "Aruba, Cancun, Orlando, Jamaica,
Nassau and Puerto Rico are far and away the best [sellers for us],"
At Delta Vacations, top draws are Grand Cayman, the Bahamas and
St. Thomas, said Chris Hamaway, senior manager of marketing for the
firm, which is operated by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Certified
Vacations. Hamaway said that St. Thomas' refurbished hotel
infrastructure "is in its best shape in years, if not ever," and
clients are eager to go.
Perhaps nothing is so alluring, however, as good value. "When
someone calls and says, 'Where can I still go for Christmas and New
Year's,' and the cruise lines are sending over last-minute sales,
people are scarfing them up," said Cyndi Napolitan, travel
consultant with Worldwide Travel in Lancaster, Pa. "My No. 1 seller
has been cruises in the Caribbean," she said, adding that "cruises
have been a better deal with pre-packaged air. I don't have to
worry about clearing space. [Cruise lines] do it all for you."
Bargain hunters also can aim a bit farther north. Although
Thanksgiving and the Christmas-Hannukah period tend to be peak
periods for Central and South Florida, clients who can end their
vacations a few days after Thanksgiving or New Year's will find
significantly reduced rates for hotels and cars once the holiday
Hoteliers said agents are likely to find holiday bargains at the
Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa airport hotels because commercial
travel dwindles during the season. For families headed to Florida,
Amelia Island Plantation, northeast of Jacksonville, offers rack
rates that are about $100 a night cheaper for a one-bedroom suite
than those in effect during the hotel's March to May peak
Orlando, even with its 85,000 hotel rooms, will have few of them
available near theme parks during both Thanksgiving and Christmas,
predicted Maurice Honor, vice president of Kingdom Tours, Plains,
Pa., a major Florida wholesaler.
Gogo Worldwide Vacations, in Ramsey, N.J., already had sold out
one of its three Christmas charters to Orlando on Kiwi; some seats
still remained for Dec. 24 to 28 and Jan. 1 to 4, and on packages
with higher-priced scheduled air service, a spokeswoman said.
But good holiday room rates still were available in the St.
Petersburg-Clearwater area, according to the St.
Petersburg-Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Agents
looking for rooms there will find the bureau's reservations service
available to them at (800) 345-6710.
Despite its stormy autumn, Mexico was attracting significant
holiday travelers. At Peak Travel in San Jose, Calif., Cancun and
Puerto Vallarta were the most sought-after beach resorts, according
to retailer Terry Hall, who said the two destinations were nearly
sold out. Terry Hill, owner of Franciscan Travel in San Francisco,
said Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Los Cabos were in high
Not all holiday revelers necessarily are sun seekers. As Jack
Young Jr., president and chief executive officer of San
Francisco-based Clement Tours & Travel, put it: "I think for
value, [clients] should go to Vancouver and Victoria, British
Tom Crabb, owner of Dallas-based Lakewood Travel, cited the
favorable exchange rate as an incentive to lure clients to Canada.
"The 71% exchange rate is very nice," he said. "You get a good bang
for your buck up there."
Operators reported that holiday theme tours to Europe are
selling well this year. DER, in Chicago, typically sells out on its
two Christmas market tours in Germany, according to a spokesman,
and this year will be no different, with bookings up by 18%
Henry Magenheim, Gay Nagle Myers, Kristin O'Meara, Cathy
Carroll, Tyler Davidson, Lori Tenny and Dinah A. Spritzer
contributed to this report.