Travel and Save Now (If You Can)

Trends and affordable travel tips from Pauline and Arthur Frommer, Rick Steves, and the show floor of the 2009 New York Times Travel Show.


The 2009 New York Times Travel Show took place Feb. 6 to 8 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. The show floor and number of attendees seemed smaller than in recent years according to a few exhibitors, but that’s not surprising given today’s economic realities.

In fact, much of the show’s seminar topics and guest speakers focused their sessions on how to survive in today’s down marketplace if you’re a travel agent or supplier, or on where to find the most affordable travel destinations and deals. Key points: Don’t be afraid of technology—use social media tools, such as Twitter and blogs, to build your business, be it travel sales or travel writing; be authentic; and show your expertise.

Green and Meaningful Travel

Keynote speaker Daniel Levine, expert trends-spotter, author and consultant, stressed the continued demand for distinctive, personalized and transparent experiences, but really focused on the trend for meaningful experiences.

“Hedonism is out, and experiences that speak to a traveler’s core values, community, the environment, health and education are in,” says Levine. Ecotourism and voluntourism are two major components of this trend. Entire buildings are being built to be sustainable, and hospitality companies are investing in garden rooftops, solar and wind energy, water conservation, sustainable food practices, green golf course design and more. “This is the biggest trend in our lifetimes and it’s just beginning,” Levine says. “The public demands it.”

(Levine also noted the Ritz-Carlton Give Back Getaways program, which matches guests with volunteer opportunities during their stay. I had the opportunity to interview a Ritz-Carlton manager about the program, which will run in an upcoming TravelMusings blog post.)

Cruise Deals

“Travel is cheaper than ever,” say travel experts Pauline Frommer and her father Arthur Frommer, who together spoke at the show on both Saturday and Sunday. “I’m seeing even deeper discounts than after September 11.” If you can afford to travel, now is the time to go.

Pauline Frommer talked about cruise deals, and credits the 7 percent increase in cabins this year alone as one of the reasons for the discounts (more supply; lower demand), adding that by 2012 there will be 30 new ships at sea, introduced in a span of fewer than 10 years. You can book a March 1 departure on a seven-day Royal Caribbean cruise for $319, or travel from Fort Lauderdale to Barcelona for 14 nights for just $549, as the ships reposition themselves from their winter Caribbean schedule for their Mediterranean summer sailings.

She also recommends booking through a cruise agent specialist as opposed to the cruise companies directly as they’ll be better able to secure special upgrades and perks, such as free airfare, cabin upgrades, 20 percent discounts on extras, since they buy in bulk.

Her father Arthur Frommer, however, condemned the way the cruise industry has shifted from being a cultural and educational experience to one of massive ships that are destroying some of the destinations they visit, when they can even make it into dock.

Where the On-Land Bargains Are

The elder Frommer instead encouraged attendees to seek out places where the dollar has appreciated considerably against the local currency, such as Mexico, Canada, Argentina, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. In Mexico, he recommends avoiding Cancun, Cabo and the Riviera Maya—except for Tulum—because the destinations are “more like Southern California than an authentic Mexican experience.” Where does he say you can still feel the real warmth of Mexico? In Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Manzanillo.

Other destinations to consider:

  • Panama, because it’s easy to get there, is affordable and has much to see, including one of the best preserved colonial areas, Casco Viejo in Panama City.
  • Nicaragua, which is growing its eco-tourism industry but hasn’t become as popular or expensive as Costa Rica just yet.
  • Las Vegas, which is offering bargain basement prices as the city has lost 20 percent of its flights this past year, which means fewer visitors able to fly in, and the number of drive-in tourists is down too, as people are opting to check out the new casinos that have opened up along the road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Harrahs was offering rooms at $35 per night; Caesar’s Palace at $90.
  • Hawaii, where demand disappeared along with scheduled flights. Rent a condo though, says Arthur Frommer, as there are more available on Maui than hotel rooms.
  • Iceland, which is suffering an economic meltdown. Iceland Air was offering a seven-night package at the Hilton for $800, air and breakfast included.
  • India, again, for affordability. Air India was offering two-for-one deals at the show, as well as a $469 round-trip fare, if purchased by Feb. 28, 2009.

News and Deals From the Show Floor

G.A.P. Adventures, which specializes in experiential travel, is seeing increased demand for its cultural tours to Antarctica, the Arctic, Peru and the Galapagos. Programs generally include a week of volunteer work and a week of pure vacation time. It keeps tours to 15 people max, and gives back through and iCamp in Tibet.

Class IV Mountain River, located on the New River Gorge in West Virginia, is investing $4 million to expand and update its accommodations and activity offerings. A new canopy tour opens May 1, 2009, that lasts more than three hours and includes hikes and runs across the gorge and river, and 42 new cabins are under construction and should be ready by late summer/early fall.

Context, which specializes in educational walking tours led by Ph.D.-level scholars and historians, is launching a new Trips program, with two- to eight-day programs. The Farm to Fork tour for families in Italy debuts June 11, 2009. The six-day package includes meeting chefs, visiting farms, learning about seasonal produce, sustainable practices. The tour will be based out of Rome and include a trip to Pompeii. Price is €995 (about US $1,275) per person, not including airfare.

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