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December 29, 2009

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Shanghai and Mexico feature on top 10 hot destinations for 2010

FROM World Expo Shanghai to the FIFA World Cup, there are plenty of draws for smart travelers next year. Beth J. Harpaz checks out the hottest tickets across the globe for those looking to get away from it all. Forecasts for 2010 predict that more people will be traveling, but the numbers remain well below what they were before the recession. Still, for people who can afford to get away, interesting events will be drawing visitors to destinations around the world, from Shanghai to South Africa to Orlando.

And here is a surprise: Mexico is turning up on some top 10 lists for 2010, despite the swine flu epidemic and worries over drug violence.

Several destinations will be in the tourism spotlight in 2010 thanks to headline-grabbing events, including the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, from February 12-28; the FIFA World Cup soccer games in South Africa, for a month beginning June 11; and the World Expo Shanghai from May 1 to October 31, a 21st-century world fair that organizers hope will attract as many as 70 million visitors.

Another destination that will get attention next year is Oberammergau, Germany, where the oldest continually acted Passion play in Europe has been performed by the locals roughly every 10 years since the 1600s. The show will be staged May through October, and is typically seen by a half-million people.

Spain is expecting more pilgrims traveling the Camino de Santiago, an ancient route to Galicia, where the cathedral is said to house the remains of St James the Apostle. Typically the route draws more visitors when the saint's Feast Day, July 25, falls on a Sunday, as it will in 2010.

Closer to the United States, Universal Orlando opens the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure this spring. For theme park fans keeping an eye on new attractions for 2010, "the Harry Potter project at Universal is in a category of its own in terms of scope," says David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

The marquee attraction will be a high-tech ride called "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" that will take guests through scenes and rooms from the blockbuster Potter movies.

Universal Hollywood also has news for 2010. Its King Kong attraction, which burned down in 2008, is swinging back onto the Universal Studios Hollywood backlot tram tour next summer. The new 3D attraction, King King 360, will transport visitors to Skull Island where they will witness "the eighth wonder of the world" tussling with dinosaurs and other critters.

Disneyland's California Adventure Park also is debuting a big new attraction in 2010 called World of Color. This unique nighttime water show uses a kaleidoscope of color, powerful fountains and audio and visual effects to take viewers on a journey through animated Disney classics like "The Lion King," ''Toy Story" and many others.

Disney also will be offering a free day's admission to parks on both coasts to 1 million guests who complete a day of volunteer work in the new year.

The "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day" program will provide certified volunteers with a one-day ticket to any park at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, or Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida. Disney is partnering with HandsOn Network, a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities, to connect people with projects and to certify that the work was done.

Finally, never mind that worries about swine flu and drug violence led to a 12.5 percent decline in air travel to Mexico by US citizens for the first nine months of 2009 compared with 2008, according to the US Department of Commerce.

Lonely Planet's US staff's top 10 list for 2010 declares that "H1N1 is so 2009," and puts Mexico as the No. 4 destination for the new year, adding that it is "still a good bargain, easy to get to for most Americans."

Yahoo's list of most popular cities for 2009, based on consumer interest and activity, includes Cancun and Cabo San Lucas. And Mexico City was on Frommer's top destinations list for the new year.

George Hobica, founder of, says if flying to Mexico is too expensive, just drive to a port and take a "crazy cheap" cruise to Cancun. "Get the vaccine and don't tangle with any drug lords," he adds.

But if even a cruise is beyond your budget, you can still be a trendy traveler by hopping in your car and driving to the nearest national park. Visits to national parks in 2009 were up 4.13 percent over 2008 - 286.2 million compared to 274.8 million - and that is without even counting attendance for the entire month of December. The inauguration of President Barack Obama helped draw visitors to park sites in Washington, but millions of Americans traveled to parks elsewhere, too, recognizing them as perfect destinations for a recession vacation.

American leisure travel is expected to increase 2 percent in 2010, with an increase in leisure travel spending of nearly 5 percent, according to the US Travel Association. IBISWorld, an industry research firm, forecasts an increase in tourism revenues for 2010 of just 1.2 percent.

Even with this small recovery, numbers for 2010 will be lower than they were in 2008. The USTA says travel expenditures in the United States are expected to total US$712 billion in 2009, then rise to US$745.2 billion in 2010 - still lower than the US$772.9 billion in expenditures in 2008.

The World Travel & Tourism Council predicted that the industry worldwide would show a 5.5 percent decline for 2009 from 2008 once all the data are counted. For 2010, the organization's president, Jean-Claude Baumgarten, says travel and tourism activity "is likely to be flat at best."

The lodging forecast for 2010 from PricewaterhouseCoopers shows a small increase in the number of average daily rooms sold, up 2.5 percent to 2.68 million rooms in 2010, compared to 2.61 million in 2009. That is the lowest number since 2003.

"The industry is not rebounding," says Scott Berman, hospitality and leisure leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He says he expects the hotel industry will see some of its older, undercapitalized and physically obsolete properties closing as a result.

The good news for consumers is that PricewaterhouseCoopers also is forecasting lower average daily rates (US$95.79 in 2010 compared to US$97.51 in 2009), due partly to increased competition from a larger supply of hotel rooms: 4.78 million rooms available in 2010 compared with 4.74 million in 2009.

Berman also says he thinks business travel has "hit the bottom" and that corporate group bookings are "picking up across the board, including in luxury properties."

On airfares, Hobica, of, says that if the economy picks up, "My guess is we're going to see a lot of firming up of airfares," especially since many airlines have cut capacity, he said.

"We are not going to see the desperate fare sales as much as in the past," he adds.

If you are hoping to snag an airfare deal, though, Hobica says it is crucial that you sign up for frequent flyer programs, e-mail alerts and Twitter feeds.

"That was the big trend of 2009, with airlines using different marketing channels to go directly to the consumer with promotion codes and offers," Hobica says.


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