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Summer travel preview

If you haven't booked your summer vacation yet, don't worry. There's still plenty of time to plan--for the summer of 2007, that is.
The Bauer Hotel, Venice, Italy
The Bauer Hotel, Venice, Italy
/ Source: Forbes

If you haven't booked your summer vacation yet, don't worry. There's still plenty of time to plan--for the summer of 2007, that is.

"Many travelers are making summer travel destination choices very early in the year," says Sheri Lambert, senior vice president at Synovate, in the international market research company's 2006 summer planning survey. As they do, they take up rooms and airplane seats that would normally have remained available for longer.

So make your reservations as soon as possible, Lambert advises. Otherwise, you may be spending the summer paddling in your bathtub instead of the Mediterranean Sea.

Fortunately, things haven't reached that dire point just yet. Even though it's officially spring, there are still good deals available for consumers willing to do a bit of research. For our Summer Travel Preview, we chose 12 hotels and resorts that are likely to be popular this summer but which still have availability--and won't break the bank. Some, like the Carlyon Bay Hotel in Cornwall, U.K, where a two-night package starts at $260, are downright bargains. Guests enjoy precipitous views over the Atlantic Ocean and exclusive use of the Carlyon Bay Golf Course. Others, like The Point on Lake Saranac, New York, are indulgent; guests pay $1,250 per night, but that does include meals, beverages and activities.

The summer travel study, which was released in March in conjunction with the Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association, showed a definite trend towards early planning--and booking. Out of all the Americans planning to travel this summer, 30% are finalizing transportation and accommodation bookings earlier this year than they did in 2005, with 38% having booked transportation and 21% having made lodging reservations before the end of March--both percentages higher than they were last year (though the report didn't say by how much).

The TIA attributes the increase in early bookings to strong consumer demand coupled with limited availability--especially when it comes to hotels. "Strong air and hotel demand has resulted in higher prices and fewer bargains," according to the survey. Lodging industry experts are noticing the same thing.

"We are seeing a hotel pipeline that's at a historic low in the U.S.," says Jan Freitag, vice president at Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research. (The hotel "pipeline" refers to the number of properties that are under construction or in the planning stage.) "The properties that are open love it," because a healthy economy is contributing to a very strong leisure travel market.

From January to December 2005, the number of new hotel rooms in the U.S. increased just 0.4%--that's not much, especially when compared with the historical average of 2.2% per year. Freitag has been advising consumers for months to book summer travel early in order to offset the high prices. They seem to be paying attention.

Marina Gratsos, founder of London-based Carpe Diem Luxury Travel, wishes her clients would do the same. Gratsos has exclusive access to 20 or 30 high-end private villas around the world, including castles in Tuscany and estates in the Caribbean. Gratsos markets and rents the properties, which are often second or third homes for their owners, to an upscale international clientele. "Everyone in Europe knows you go on holiday in August," Gratsos says. "At the last minute, you don't get good deals or bargains. If you call in June and say you want a house by the sea,"--as one client recently did--"it ain't gonna happen."

Whether you choose the seaside or a mountaintop, follow the advice of industry professionals this season and book now. A little advance planning certainly beats the bathtub.