published Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Travel 2013: Ireland, Dominican Republic and movie sites are on the list

Ian McKellen is Gandalf in the movie "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which was filmed in New Zealand along with its predecessors in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The country has seen an upswing in tourism since the films were released.
Ian McKellen is Gandalf in the movie "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which was filmed in New Zealand along with its predecessors in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The country has seen an upswing in tourism since the films were released.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Hotel Trends

According to Anne Banas, executive editor of Smarter Travel, ever-increasing airfares and airline fees have forced travelers to focus on the other big-ticket item in vacation spending: Hotels.

"It's all about hotels now and hotel deals," she says, and interest is skyrocketing in hotel booking sites, apps and membership-only sites. The vacation rental market is changing too, with more owners allowing people to book for a weekend of a few nights instead of the Sunday-to-Sunday week.

Banas says sites like SniqueAway, Jetsetter and the Vacationist are becoming more popular "because you can get a more luxurious property for lower prices -- you can stay at a four- or five-star hotel for the price of a three-star. But you have to be more flexible. You have to take what's being offered, which might be offseason or slow season."

Another site, Tingo, "automatically rebooks you at a lower price if the price drops, and issues you a refund," Banas says. "Tingo does all the work. It's a nice passive way to save some money."

Several new sites and apps offer highly discounted hotel rooms that can only be booked that night, including HotelTonight and Priceline's Tonight -Only Deals.

"This is for two types of people -- people who are really last-minute, flexible travelers, or people whose flight is canceled and they need a hotel tonight," Banas says.

Jan Freitag of STR, which tracks hotel data, says mobile apps are becoming a "preferred travel booking tool" to the point where some travel startups are forgoing websites for app-only hotel booking models.

The Dominican Republic, Ireland, Myanmar, Marseille, New Zealand and Gettysburg are all on the travel radar for 2013 thanks to new tours, events and anniversaries.

But the best pitch for travel in the new year might just be coming from Ireland, which is running ads "calling all Flynns, O'Malleys and Schweizenbergs" to the Emerald Isle for a unique grassroots homecoming called "The Gathering."

Here are details on these and other places, events and travel trends for 2013.

IRELAND'S 'GATHERING'

"It's a citizen-led initiative to attract people who are Irish-born, Irish-bred or Irish in spirit to join us in 2013," says Bernard McMullan of Tourism Ireland. "It's almost become a competition where one county, town or village tries to have as quirky a gathering as the next."

More than 2,000 events are already planned, including events for redheads and left-handers as well as reunions based on family names and clans.

"Ireland has everybody's ancestors," says Jimmy Campbell, owner of Cleland Travel in Chattanooga.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 34.7 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, and Arabella Bowen, executive editorial director of Fodor's Travel, is one of them. Even President Barack Obama has an Irish ancestor in the family tree.

"There are Irish people all over the world," says Bowen. "It will be great fun being able to connect with others going back for this event. It's like an entire year of St. Patrick's Day parties."

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

A host of all-inclusive resorts and cheap rates are focusing attention on the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.

"One of the hottest destinations I see for 2013 is the Dominican Republic," says Daniel Richards, a travel agent at Superior Cruise and Travel in Dalton, Ga. "We've already gotten a lot of early inquiries. It's an area in the Caribbean that's growing rapidly for tourism because there's a lot of inclusives and prices like Mexico, which is the cheapest place to travel."

Lonelyplanet.com rates the Dominican Republic as one of its "Best in Travel" destinations for 2013. Along with 1,000 miles of beaches, it has jungle and mountain habitats further inland.

Unlike Haiti, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic was not severely damaged by the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti.

HOLLYWOOD

As usual, films will play a big role in travel in 2013. A hit movie with exotic locations always prompts interest in the country where the film was made, travel agents say.

"The ties between Hollywood and the travel industry are long established, and this trend will likely continue as it benefits all concerned," says West Oehmig, of Oehmig Travel Consultancy in Chattanooga. "Australia took off after 'Crocodile Dundee,' Scotland after 'Braveheart,' and New Zealand after the Tolkien movies."

Along with "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, the release of the new movie "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (and its two upcoming sequels) is focusing attention on New Zealand again because all six movies were filmed in the country.

Campbell, though, says he hasn't booked any trips to New Zealand in five years.

Dalton's Richards says she sometimes gets "requests based on movies and TV shows where people want to stay at the same resort such as in Cancun where (MTV's) 'Real World' is filmed."

Gary Moore, owner of Moore Bestway Travel in Cleveland, Tenn., says his company is booking travel packages to Mackinac Island in Michigan where "Somewhere in Time," the 1980 romantic science-fiction film starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer, was filmed at the island's Grand Hotel .

"It's a popular destination, particularly for our older clients," Moore says.

MYANMAR

President Obama's historic recent visit to Myanmar -- the first ever by a sitting U.S. president -- is adding to already heated-up interest in the country, which has only fully opened to tourism in the last few years. Fodor's Bowen says it's especially attractive to people who are already well traveled and are seeking that next unknown destination.

Many tour companies are adding Myanmar trips due to demand and the U.S. Tour Operators Association's active members named Myanmar No. 1 on a list of "off-the-beaten path" countries they foresee becoming popular in 2013.

MARSEILLE

The French port city Marseille is one of two European capitals of culture in 2013, along with the Slovakian city of Kosice. Fodor's Bowen says Marseille "has been overlooked in the past" by a lot of travelers heading to the lavender fields and wineries of Provence, but she believes it's ripe for a "renaissance" with new hotels, art galleries and culinary hotspots. XL Airways France is launching direct flights from New York in late May.

ANNIVERSARIES

Several important anniversaries take place in 2013, with exhibits and events to mark them.

• Gettysburg, Pa., is marking 150 years since the famous Civil War battle, which took place July 1-13, 1863. The town will also mark the sesquicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln's brief but brilliant 272-word speech, the Gettysburg Address, which he delivered Nov. 19, 1863 at the battlefield cemetery.

Marquee events for the battle commemoration, including reenactments and tours, will take place June 28 to July 7, but there will be activities and programs throughout the year. On July 1, the new Seminary Ridge Museum opens in a building that was used as a soldiers' hospital. Union Gen. John Buford also used the structure's cupola to scout the countryside on the battle's first day.

• Dallas plans a ceremony to mark 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, at the exact time and place where shots rang out: Dealey Plaza, Nov. 22, 12:25 p.m. The ceremony will begin with church bells tolling and a moment of silence, followed by a reading of Kennedy's speeches, songs, prayers and a military flyover. Special programming is also planned by many other sites, from the Newseum in Washington, D.C. to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, located in a building where a sniper's nest and rifle were found following the shooting.

• Saratoga, N.Y., is planning a May-to-September celebration with festivals and concerts marking the 150th anniversary of the race course, where watching the horses remains a fun and popular pastime. The town is also known for upscale eateries and lodging along with Saratoga Spa State Park, with its beautiful pools and natural springs.

• New York City's Grand Central Terminal kicks off its centennial Feb. 1 with a rededication of the landmarked Beaux Arts station. Performances, lectures, exhibits and tours are planned throughout the year.

• Florida is marking the state's 500th anniversary of European discovery and exploration, with events in all 67 counties.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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