High gas prices, a strong euro and a shaky global economy should be anything but stimulation for the tourism industry. Yet consumers are expressing a strong desire to travel this fall. Their timing couldn't be better, since hotels and resorts are offering deep last-minute discounts to keep their rooms full.
"Because of the economy, price of fuel and impending actions of airlines, hotels are a little skittish," says Jay Rein, president of Las Vegas-based online booking agency Travelworm.com. "Between now and Dec. 23, you'll find discounts up to 30 percent pretty much across the board."
Roughly 170 million Americans plan to take a leisure trip between now and year's end, according to a survey conducted last month by the Travel Industry Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization, and YPartnership, an Orlando, Fla.-based marketing firm. The survey also suggests that those holidays will be shorter, closer to home and, maybe most important, less expensive than past vacations.
One of those destinations trying to lure travelers with deep discounts is Las Vegas, says Rein. The city's economy has been hit hard by the subprime mortgage crisis, which means high-end hoteliers are being forced to mark down room prices.
At the Palms Casino Resort, for example, guests enjoy access to the exclusive Playboy Club, the on-site casino, several restaurants—including the N9NE Steakhouse—a pool, spa and nightclubs, including Rain as well as the rooftop Ghostbar. Through September, the hotel offers guests who book one night's stay a second night free. The off-season starting rate is just $95.50 for a junior suite.
Sun and surf
During the back-to-school season, the Caribbean has plenty of great deals. Unfortunately, there's risk involved—it's hurricane season in the region—but those undeterred stand to reap significant savings.
The family-friendly Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas lures fall vacationers with its Ultimate Paradise Package, which includes several complimentary meals as well as unlimited access to a water park, aquariums and a nightclub. Rates begin at $159 per person, per night, compared with $270 and up during the high season.
And at Anse Chastanet in St. Lucia, guests receive a $100 discount, per person, for bookings of five nights or more, made through the end of this month, for travel Aug. 10 to Oct. 31. Along with two restaurants and bars, a spa, a water sports center and scuba lessons, the resort offers mountain biking and rainforest hikes.
Good deals can go bad
Linda D'Arcy, an Oakbrook, Ill.-based travel sales specialist for American Express, says that while these offers are sometimes impossible to pass up, there are precautions one should take when booking.
First off, make sure to buy traveler's insurance that guarantees money back if a storm hits the vacation spot right before your scheduled trip or during your trip. Either way, you'll be protected from losing too much money.
Work with a reputable travel agent that promises 24-hour customer service. That way no matter where you are, you can resolve any problems you may have.
Finally, live by the rule of thumb that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. "You'll see advertisements for a Hawaii vacation from $199 for a week," says D'Arcy. "That means you'll be staying in a one-star hotel."
Stronger Euro, lower prices
If you're wary of heading south for the season but still want to take a break, D'Arcy says to consider Europe—particularly the Mediterranean, where the weather is still pleasant in the autumn. Despite the strong euro, tour operators and hoteliers are trying their best to accommodate travelers from around the world.
Yachts of Seabourn, a Miami-based luxury cruise operator, offers 50 percent off several of its fall European and North African itineraries, including a seven-day trip that departs from Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 8 and visits several ports in Greece before arriving in Alexandria, Egypt.
Even those who love to shop can fare well in Europe. At the five-star Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France, guests who love fashion and France—but fear the strong euro—can take advantage of a special deal through the end of the year.
Starting at $625 per night for a deluxe room, the package includes personal shopping services at the Fashion Avenue shopping arcade (stores include Van Cleef & Arpels, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent), 10 percent savings on all purchases, an additional 14 percent savings for non-E.U. passport holders, welcome baskets and complimentary breakfast. During the high season, guests pay comparable room rates but without the extra add-ons and benefits of the package.
Regardless of your destination, this fall is certainly a prime time to travel—and save.
"Right now, because of the economy, there is an increase in value-added incentives," says D'Arcy. "Whether that means food and beverage credits or an extra round of golf, there will be deals through the season."
© 2012 Forbes.com