Travelers Choose their Favorite Escapes
A recent survey ranks Italy, Egypt and Latin America among top destinations for vacationing Americans
By Jennifer Davoren
The United States Tour Operators Association, or USTOA, is a professional membership organization for international tour operators, cruise lines and other travel professionals serving U.S. customers. USTOA members, which send more than 11 million travelers on vacation packages and tours annually, take part in an annual survey seeking to rank favorite vacation destinations.
Italy remains the top destination for Americans traveling abroad, according to the 2008 survey released last December. From the designer clothing shops of Milan to the historic lures of Rome and Venice, Italy offers appealing options from top to toe of its famed boot-shaped peninsula.
Escorted tours offer an easy, panoramic method of visiting international hot spots, including many Italian destinations. Companies specializing in this type of vacation buy airfare and lodging in bulk, securing low group rates and passing the savings on to their customers. With a tour, you can save up to 40 percent over purchasing the individual vacation components separately. Tour operators also employ knowledgeable guides to ensure travelers enjoy a comfortable, fun experience in far-flung destinations.
Escorted tours in Italy can include vineyard visits, cooking classes and museum and monument tours. Packed itineraries promise bang for your travel buck, hitting multiple cities on a single vacation. The most ubiquitous tour spends time in Rome, Florence and Venice, with a side trip to the leaning Tower of Pisa, in less than 10 days of travel time.
Egypt was named as the second most popular spot for American tourists. Many travelers opt for an itinerary that includes a multiday cruise of the Nile River, which provides a historic view of this fascinating country. Nile cruises give visitors the chance to play Cleopatra while taking in a number of awe-inspiring sights: bustling Cairo, shining Luxor and a number of temples dedicated to fearsome, ancient gods. Excursions to the Sphinx and pyramids are also scheduled.
Latin America earned the top spot as the most popular international region. It's another destination that's frequently made more accessible by an escorted tour, especially if you'd like to visit the Incan stronghold of Machu Picchu, hidden high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Escorted tours heading for this UNESCO World Heritage Site can wrap travel arrangements, entrance fees and special permits into the overall price of the vacation package. Travelers wishing to see the storied wildlife of the Galapagos Islands also might turn to an escorted tour company to arrange their vacation, as the region is reached by a limited number of planes and boats each day.
National parks are the most in-demand domestic destinations for U.S. tourists, according to the USTOA survey. The dramatic landscapes of the American Southwest are particularly popular, including Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona; Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks in Utah; and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which straddles both states. Most itineraries hop through the canyon lands to explore several sites in a single itinerary, often interrupting their high-desert trek for a cooling sojourn at Lake Powell.
Alaska ranked as the second most popular domestic escape among USTOA poll participants. Rugged wilderness is a big draw for the Last Frontier, and vacationers often look for trips that highlight the stunning scenery and plentiful wildlife found here. Denali National Park and Preserve, home to Dall sheep, grizzly bears and towering Mount McKinley, is a major highlight for escorted tours and cruise vacations in the region. Alaska's Inside Passage is a favorite cruise route, and ships often encounter migrating whales and the awe-inspiring sight of calving glaciers during their tours of the icy coastline.
The survey named Las Vegas as the third most popular U.S. destination. Though the city is easy enough to reach without the help of a guide, a few escorted vacation companies offer deep discounts on food, lodging and major attractions through Vegas hotel packages known as independent tours. This type of vacation, which includes plenty of free time for private exploration, also includes the services of local hosts for travelers in need of sightseeing or dining suggestions.
Survey participants pegged China as the destination with the best overall vacation value. River cruises on the Yangtze reflect that more-for-your-money ideal, with sailings that include onboard meals and daily guided sightseeing ashore. These cruises are trips through time -- sights along the Yangtze range from the 12-story temple of Shibaozhai to the modern marvel of the Three Gorges Dam, a 1.5-mile-long hydroelectric project equal to the power of 15 nuclear plants.
Most Yangtze cruise tours incorporate cosmopolitan attractions, too, with stops in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as visits to the stately terra cotta warriors of Xian. Some tack excursions to neighboring Tibet to the end of a tour.
Egypt and Mexico ranked second and third place among surveyed Americans looking for value-added getaways. Most Mexico tours focus on train trips through the verdant mountain valleys of Chihuahua's Copper Canyon, while others take in the ancient Mayan ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula or the colonial charms of San Miguel de Allende.
The USTOA survey named the Middle East as the hottest up-and-coming destination for American travelers. Countries like Egypt, Jordan and Israel are particular favorites, due in large part to their careful preservation of religious relics and other historic artifacts; with that in mind, most visitors rely on escorted tour companies to access restricted heritage sites. Hard-to-reach spots, including the rose-rock city of Petra in southern Jordan, become easy excursions when planned by experienced tour guides with extensive knowledge of the region.
Information: For more information on worldwide destinations made accessible by escorted tours, visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in March/April 2009. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.