IT'S time to predict the course of travel in 2007: It might suggest some ways to save vacation dollars over the coming year.
The comeback of New Orleans. The catalyst was the re-opening last month of the city's 578-room Ritz-Carlton hotel. With that much new hotel capacity, the city is set to regain some of its lost vigor. The French Quarter sustained little damage from Hurricane Katrina and is now ready to house (all the big hotels are fully open), feed (the major restaurants -- including Commander's Palace in the Garden District -- have also reopened) and entertain you. (Preservation Hall and every major club are again jumping.)
Cruises will again entice bargain-hunters. Bookings have slowed in recent months; the proof is in the sizable discounts offered by a dozen major nationwide cruise brokers (as little as $60 and $70 per person per day for some Caribbean sailings). The result is an abundance of bargain holidays, especially for family reunions and other small groups that can negotiate further reductions from the lines.
Vietnam is the new hot spot. Enjoying economic growth as vigorous as China's, the once-embattled nation has emerged as a capital of tourism, especially for shoppers.
Custom-made men's suits are had for less than $200, women's silk outfits for $50 to $75, and open-air markets will supply you with enough accessories and oddities for a full year of gift-giving. If you fly United Airlines from San Francisco direct to Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) by way of Hong Kong, your round-trip airfare can be less than $1,100. Once there, good hotels are available for $125 a night and less; full-course meals can be found for $15 and $20.
Winter vacancies in the tropics. The Jan. 23 imposition of a passport requirement for flying to and from the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South America will catch many sun-worshipers unaware, despite the publicity. I predict that these countries and islands (other than Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where a passport is not needed) will experience a slowdown in winter tourism, because only a quarter of Americans have passports. This will make it easy to pick up last-minute rooms and flights at moderate costs.
Vacation home rentals will soar in popularity. In places such as Phoenix and Orlando, Fla., gated communities are springing up with homes and condos occupied by tourists who at last have learned that such accommodations can be cheaper and more comfortable than hotels. With homes and apartments increasingly being used for vacation purposes, sites like Vacation Rentals by Owner, www.vrbo.com, are becoming more useful.
Packages and escorted tours will be the way to go to Europe. The dollar is in the doldrums and probably will decline even further this year because of a record-breaking negative trade balance on our country's part. With the British pound costing almost $2 and the euro $1.31, a European vacation will be so costly that more and more Americans will sign on to air-and-land packages or escorted tours priced at reduced rates that are negotiated by big-volume operators.
Some neglected places will return to popularity. Egypt, which has been terror-free the last several months, will again receive Americans in large numbers. Millions of Europeans already are visiting, and it seems time for our own return. Other places I expect to surge: Turkey, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Argentina and Brazil are low in price and full of pleasure.