Americans to travel farther, spend more in 2012

NEW YORK Fri Dec 30, 2011 5:03am EST

People exercise by a lake in Yangon at sunrise December 3, 2011.    REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

People exercise by a lake in Yangon at sunrise December 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shaky economy notwithstanding, Americans intend to travel farther and spend more in 2012, according to a nationwide poll.

Long-haul bookings to Europe, Asia and Australia are up in 2012, comprising 11 of the top 20 destinations for U.S. travelers, compared to nine in 2011, the survey of 640 travel agents showed.

Over 90 percent said their clients will spend the same or more on travel in 2012. The top two international destinations for 2012, based on actual bookings, remain Caribbean cruises and Cancun, Mexico, as they were in the 2011 survey.

Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong, China, missing from the top 20 in 2011, made the list in 2012, and Sydney, Australia, ranked 19th last year just missed making the top 15.

"We are very encouraged to see the rise in popularity of such a diverse group of international destinations," said Roger E. Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group, which conducted the poll.

He said along with the expected list-toppers, such as London and Rome, it was nice to see Americans' interests are diversifying and in large enough numbers to 'bump up' destinations such as Hong Kong and Beijing in Asia, and Amsterdam and Barcelona in Europe.

Asked to pick the top up-and-coming international destinations, over a third of the agents chose Croatia for Europe, and one-half said Vietnam led in Asia. Panama edged out Ecuador and Brazil among destinations within Central/South America.

The luxury travel segment continues to thrive. More than half the leisure travel specialists polled reported upticks in small ship cruising, off-the-beaten path travel and international family travel.

Las Vegas, Nevada, heads up the domestic destinations for 2012 for U.S. travelers, as it did in 2011. Agents cite the lure of gaming and the ease of the getaway for its continued vitality; Orlando, Florida, the home of Disney World, ranked second.

Last-minute leisure travel is down. Eager to lock-in optimum pricing and driven by reduced airline capacity, leisure travelers continue to book further in advance of their travel date.

Domestically, more than 63 percent of leisure travelers booked their flights eight weeks or more in advance of the travel date; internationally, it was 89.5 percent.

Almost 40 percent of the agents reported higher bookings in 2012; 40.8 percent said bookings were even; and 19.7 percent reported lower bookings than in 2011.

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