The summer starts here
TRAVEL EDITOR MARK EVANS looks at where - and what - is hot for holidays
This weekend, tourist boards from around the globe will be offering deals and dreams to would-be holidaymakers at the Holiday World Show. And the signs are the Irish are keen to take a break this year. "The amazing thing is that enquiries among many travel agents are up 50pc in the leisure market," according to Pat Dawson, president of the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA).
All the operators agree that value is key-- so find out where to get that deal or where that dream holiday lies.
VALUE AND ALL-INCLUSIVE
"People are looking for value for money," says Tour America boss Mary McKenna. "More people are looking at June and September holidays to America, rather than peak summer and the hotels they want are three star, not five."
Her company has responded by offering perks that cut down the cost of that summer break. All-in holidays have grown rapidly in recent years and 2012 will be no exception.
"Business is definitely up and the all-inclusive deals are doing well," says Philip Airey, president of the Irish Tour Operators Federation.
And that view is echoed by Pat Dawson of the ITAA. "All-inclusive is very popular -- it means that people know how much they'll be spending and just have to worry about socialising costs."
Falcon Holidays reveal that almost one in four bookings this year have been for all-inclusive holidays -- up 100pc on last year.
"Lead-in prices for normal package holidays are only €200-odd self catering off season but many people are looking to pay that little extra for all inclusive," says Clem Walshe, of lowcostholidays.ie
NEW CRUISING BOOM
Another massive growth area is in all-inclusive river cruising and it's hugely popular among people who've taken an ocean cruise and want something different.
"Globally, river cruising's up 60pc," says Sharon Jordan, the Irish head of the award-winning Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. "There are a lot more ships out there and it's really popular with solo travellers, as well as couples, as plenty of dates have no single supplements."
The Danube is a big seller in Ireland, as are cruises in Portugal, on ships with outdoor pools. Travellers are offered six-star luxury -- fully inclusive, with food, drink (including alcohol), entertainment and excursions all part of the package price.
The two-week holiday is creeping back into vogue. Sales to traditional family destinations of Majorca, Spain and the Canaries are "up 15pc in January from summer 2011", according to Falcon Holidays, while Sunway reveals that "Tunisia is coming back up".
Clem Walshe of lowcostholidays.ie says "the Algarve, Lanzarote, Majorca, Salou and the Costa del Sol are back in vogue because the flight links are good and they offer great value".
The Magic Kingdom, Universal and International Drive area of the Sunshine State of Florida are still tops among families. Mary McKenna of Tour America says customers "are looking for good value and waiting for airfares to drop".
The Caribbean area has also proved surprisingly strong. "The Dominican Republic and Mexico are proving very popular," says Sunway Holidays boss Tanya Airey. "They're big with couples in particular and Cancun in Mexico is the main choice for holiday-makers.
Given its cut-throat competition among hoteliers after a building boom which has left it with a lot of capacity, Las Vegas is a good choice for the bargain hunter. "Vegas is our No 2 in the American market, with really good room deals," says Mary McKenna.
With Emirates entering the market to the Middle East, competition will be keen with local rivals Etihad. while most Irish use either Dubai or Abu Dhabi as stopovers, expect more stopover deals to the two cities.
Hotels can be pricey, so check the likes of tropicalsky.ie and trailfinders.ie for package deals. And given the fact that Abu Dhabi has welcomed some half a dozen new five star hotels in the last year alone, competition should be keen.
Also, look at the best variations on packages or flight + cruise only with Royal Caribbean or MSC for cruising from the United Arab Emirates.