No flying, more drinking, new places: Your 2009 travel resolutions on Twitter

What are your 2009 travel resolutions? I asked my friends on Twitter, and here’s what they had to say.

@DesertMama “My New years resolution is to not pay for any checked bags – whether it’s pay for an upgrade or carry on. Wish me luck.”

(Good luck.)

@soultravelers3 “Our travel resolution this year is to do slooow travel, relax & immerse deeply, travel green & eat healthy on our world tour!”

(Sounds like a plan.)

@Cajun_Mama “I really want to see the Aurora Borealis. Also taking a solo trip somewhere, like a mama walkabout. Destination unknown :)”

(The Aurora is awesome. Good resolution.)

@JoodyC “Good lord willin’ and the budget allows, I resolve to buy a fractional share of a plane so I don’t have to deal w/airports.”

(Are you kidding? If I had the money, I’d buy the whole plane!)

@sallymak26 “To explore more of our OWN country…especially now that gas is cheaper…hope to road trip at least two-three times in 2009!”

(I can already hear three little voices from the back of my car. Road trip! Road trip! Road trip!)

@caryt123 “i want to have multiple ‘mini’ vacations to destinations close to home. i may plan for a cruise too!”

(Good idea.)

@cestbest “I plan to fly less and not fly US Airways. There are better LCC options such as WN and B6.”

(I don’t think you are alone.)

@dmuth “My 2009 New Year’s Resolution is to drink more. :-)”

(I’ll drink to that.)

@karasw “Am turning 40 and celebrating 10th wedding anniversary=big year. Plane travel or new weekend destination every month!”

(So much for your “naycation.”)

@VisitNH “If you like to travel but funds are tight adventure locally. Visit a new city/town in your state for day trips or a long wknd”

(Ah, there we go.)

@chickefitz “No cruises with Mickey Mouse this year! I’m going back on Seabourne to the little ships for grownups!”

(Love Seabourne.)

@genochurch “to go back to Negril in 09. Booked :)”

(Who wouldn’t want to do that?)

@AnaLovesMusic “Travel Resolution: I want to see how many places/how far I can go without stepping on an airplane.”

(Yeah, you and everyone else in the country.)

So what are your 2009 travel resolutions? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter and share your plans with everyone else.

Happy 2009!

9 reasons ’09 will be the year of the naycation

If 2008 was the year of the staycation, then ’09 is bound to be the year of the naycation.

As in, nay — we’re not vacationing.

The conventional wisdom about travel is that it will slip by just a few percentage points next year. But the unconventional wisdom — supported by several troubling surveys — points to a much bigger drop.

A recent Allstate poll found nearly half of all Americans plan to cut back on travel in 2009. An International SOS survey says slightly fewer of us — about 4 out of 10 Americans — are reducing their international trips next year. And a Zagat survey says at least 20 percent of us will travel less in ’09.

But that’s just the half of it. I’ve been talking with people in the industry, who tell me — direct quote here — that travel is poised to “drop off a cliff” in January. In other words, people are telling pollsters one thing but making other plans.

Specifically, they’re making no plans.

Here are nine reasons why 2009 will probably be known as the year of the “naycation” — and what it means for you.

The economy sucks
Andrea Funk, the owner of an apparel company in Olivet, Mich., has canceled her travel plans for 2009. “I think we need to see the stock market stabilize and the economy get better before we go anywhere,” she says. At a time of great economic uncertainty, she and her family believe a vacation is a bad idea. “We’re hoping none of use lose our jobs,” she says. However, on the upside, a bad economy often translates into vacation bargains.

Vacation budgets are history
Daniel Senie, a network consultant in Bolton, Mass., used to travel to the Caribbean a few times a year to go diving. “We stopped a few years ago to save funds for a kitchen remodel,” he says. He never looked back. “For me, avoiding air travel is my response to the lousy service by the airlines and TSA mock-security. The airlines have provided worse and worse service in an attempt to hold down prices, in a race to the bottom. Airplanes are dirty, amenities have been cut, and employees are upset all the time.” What does that mean for those of us who still want to vacation? That any vacation budget (even a small one) might take you far next year.

We’re tired of being lied to

People are forfeiting the great American vacation because they can’t stomach the travel industry’s lies anymore. Take the airlines, which earlier this year imposed a series of new surcharges in response, they said, to higher fuel costs. When fuel prices fell, what happened to the fees? They stuck around. “Jet fuel prices have gone from over $140 per barrel in August to under $50 in November, but airfares in October were actually up 10 percent,” says Chicke Fitzgerald, the chief executive of roadescapes.com, a site for road trips. “Americans are definitely voting on that trend with their wallets.” How so? By either vacationing close to home, or just staying home altogether.

We’re a little uncertain about 2009.
With the economy slowing down, uncertainty is keeping a lot of would-be vacationers at home. Melanie Heywood, a Web developer in Sunrise, Fla., says her business has slowed down, and she also recently learned she was pregnant. “We really need to save our money as much as possible,” she says. She’s hardly alone. Consumer confidence fell to its lowest level in history in October before rebounding slightly last month. If you don’t fear 2009, though, you might be able to snag a low price on a vacation.

This year’s staycations were boring
No two ways about it, staying close to home and “exploring” the local attractions can be dull, dull, dull. (Unless you live in a place where people like to vacation.) Might as well stay at work. Or take a long weekend and just chill out at home. Which is exactly what more Americans are doing.

The deals are good — but not good enough
I spoke at a travel marketing conference last month, and heard the same refrain over and over again about “rate integrity.” The idea is that if you cut your rates, people will not value your product. Instead, travel companies are offering other enticements, such as two-for-one deals or free room nights. But travelers are holding out for better bargains. “Looking to 2009, it’s likely that we’ll see all kinds of hotel deals to draw consumers in — discounts and special packages,” says Joe McInerney, the chief executive of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group for hotels. Yes, but when? McInerney believes the deals won’t fully materialize until after the holidays.

People just don’t feel like traveling anymore
Maybe it’s a little vacation fatigue, but there’s a sizeable group of people out there who just don’t want to travel. “I don’t feel any need to go anywhere,” says Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, a communications consultant in San Diego. “Even if someone dumped $50,000 into my bank account, I’d find better things to do with it.” This indifference to vacationing — particularly to traveling far away — can be traced back to the hassle and high prices of travel during the last few years. Simply put, it’s payback time.

The travel industry still doesn’t get it
Some industry segments, such as tour operators, obviously understand that customers want a reasonable price and good service. The most reputable operators, led by the U.S. Tour Operators Association, are offering incentives such financing plans and guaranteed rates. On the other hand, airlines are responding to the lousy economy by boosting fees and surcharges and raising fares instead of raising their customer service levels. That’s going to keep a lot of travelers home in 2009.

We’ve made vacation plans — for 2010
Already, 2009 is being called the “lost year.” That’s what many travelers are treating it like, too. “We have decided to put off our travel,” says writer Brenda Della Casa. “We fully intend to head back to Mexico or Europe — in 2010. Hopefully, things will be more stable.” For the contrarians among us, “discovering” 2009 may mean uncovering a lot of opportunities to see destinations you could have never otherwise afforded.

So how does this affect your next vacation? If you’re brave enough to take one, expect lots of too-good-to-be true deals. Even the smallest vacation budget might be rewarded with a wonderful experience.

Put differently, 2009 may be the year of the “naycation” for everyone else — but for you, it could be the year you take your best vacation ever.

4 rules travelers should know for 2009

It’s not too soon to start thinking about traveling next year. In 2009, a series of new rules and regulations kick in that could affect your vacation. Ignore them, and you might find yourself delayed or denied access to your destination.

No, really.

Last year, when new travel document requirements went into effect, the government was quickly overwhelmed by passport applications. One of them came from Martin Mitchell, an Air Force Major who sent a passport renewal in April but still hadn’t received it by mid-July. With less than two weeks to go before a planned trip, he contacted me.

“I read that you have contacts with the State Department,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I would appreciate if you could act on my behalf to try and shake loose my application.”

Well, I did have a few names, and with their help, Mitchell managed to get his passport renewed in time.

Not everyone was so lucky. Christine Simmons and her husband applied for passports after booking a vacation through Expedia last January.

But by early March, just days before her trip, her husband still didn’t have his paperwork — although, for some odd reason, she did.

“Please help!” she wrote in an e-mail. I phoned the State Department, and it was able to find the passport. It arrived a day after they were supposed to leave — “a dollar short and a day late,” she says.

Fortunately, Expedia allowed her to change her dates after paying a rebooking fee, so all wasn’t lost.

Don’t let that happen to you. Here are four new rules you need to know for 2009:

Passports will be mandatory for all border crossings
On June 1, the U.S. government will implement the full requirements of the land and sea phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). That means U.S. citizens entering the United States at sea or land ports of entry must either have a passport, passport card or WHTI-compliant document. It’s a major — and long-anticipated — change from the current rules, under which you can cross the border with either a passport, passport card or a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, along with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

Susan Tanzman, president or Martin Travel & Tours, a Los Angeles travel agency, is advising her clients to get their passports early.

“If they have a trip after the beginning of the new year, I tell them they need a passport,” she says. Why the rush? Tanzman, who is also a lawyer, remembers the last passport crisis, and doesn’t want her travelers caught in the middle of a possible sequel. That’s sound advice. Applications made at the end of the fourth quarter or the start of the first quarter — in other words, in December, January and February — typically get processed within two weeks, she says. After that, who knows?

Airlines must quote a total price for tickets

The European Parliament this year approved a new “transparency” rule mandating that airfares have to include all taxes, fees and charges added to the basic ticket price and known at the time of publication.

It is expected to take effect either in late 2008 or early 2009, according to the EU. At least theoretically, that should mean no more unpleasant surprises when you buy a ticket for travel within Europe or to Europe. Under the rule, airfare or air rate, taxes, airport charges and other charges, surcharges or fees, such as those related to security or fuel, have to be included in the price of the ticket.

And any optional price supplements must be communicated in “a clear, transparent and unambiguous way at the start of any booking process” and allow passengers to opt-in for them, according to the EU.

Stanley Gyoshev, a co-founder of the online travel site Lessno.com, was one of the key proponents of the change. He says there are two reasons why American air carriers may have no choice but to adopt these transparency rules, too. “For one, the federal government could increase consumer protection by using laws relating to unfair advertising — by insisting that airlines only advertise products and pricing which is readily available to the traveler without undue restrictions and red tape,” he told me. “The second is that since major international airlines are selling tickets in Europe, they will need to comply with the EU regulations. Since they need to make consumer-friendly changes to their European Web sites and advertising, we are hoping there will be some carry-over to the U.S. sites.”

Visas go paperless
The Department of Homeland Security’s new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will become mandatory on January 12, 2009. It’s a fully-automated, electronic system for screening passengers before they begin travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.

(The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals of 27 countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without a visa.)

It’s still unclear how this will affect Americans traveling to one of the countries who participate in the Visa Waiver Program. Last summer, EU ministers expressed misgivings about parts of the program, and it is possible that traveling to one of those countries may involve answering more questions and a different (and possibly confusing) application process.

Travel attorney Al Anolik says he expects “some retribution” against American travelers, if not for the ESTA, then for fingerprinting and eye-scanning inbound visitors to the United States — a practice he expects to see more of in 2009. “I don’t think it will deter people from traveling,” he says, adding that the time needed to complete a biometric scan “won’t add that much” to a traveler’s time spent at customs and immigration.

Passengers get a bill of rights — maybe
Last year, in response to increasing consumer frustration over flight delays, the State of New York enacted the New York State Passenger Bill of Rights. It provided fresh air, waste removal and adequate food and water for passengers on flights delayed by more than three hours. Although the law was struck down by a federal appeals court this spring, that decision has been appealed, and it may become law in 2009 or later.

Jeff Miller, a travel industry attorney based in Columbia, Md., believes the bill of rights stands a good chance of being upheld by New York’s Court of Appeals. “But one way or another,” he adds, “I think this is going to go to the Supreme Court.” If that happens, New York won’t have a passenger bill until 2011, at the earliest. But the chances of such a law being enforced at the national level are reasonably good, according to observers who say either airlines would have to adopt the same standards nationwide, or that other states would pass New York-style laws. Either way, that’s good for passengers.

Considering that 2008 is an election year — which typically means that few significant laws are passed — next year is shaping up to be an eventful one for travelers. If nothing else, new passport, visa and airline ticket rules, plus the prospect of a passenger bill of rights, will make it an interesting one.