Hotel plates increasingly filled with free grub

There’s plenty of seating in the upscale hotel restaurant right now – wherever you are. Guests are tending to choose the free breakfasts and buffets over the pricier (and often far better) paid offerings. Free meals and snacks eaten ticked up 1 percent as of the end of the third quarter, which isn’t much … until you figure in that hotel occupancy is down severely. So, the effective number of freebies chomped is actually much higher than the 1 percent, as fewer people must be eating more. The number of paid meals in restaurants is off 14%.

The rise in free meals consumed may suggest that travelers are skipping the luxury (and even mid-range) hotels and turning to budget-friendly alternatives. Full-service restaurants are giving way to free breakfasts and fast food later in the day.

When the travel biz finally kicks around to a recovery, this sort of tradeoff will become less necessary. But, for now, being able to travel means finding the ways to do it on less.

Five new travel ideas from Intrepid: get off the beaten path!

After a year of “travel slumps,” “staycations” and other cringeworthy words and conditions, let’s plan to get out on the road next year. Hey, economists are saying that the recession’s already over, and the job market’s recovery can’t be too far behind. So, there’s your motive. Opportunity? That’s your vacation time; you probably have enough. All that’s left to pull the perfect trip together are the means … which Intrepid Travel is happy to provide.

Intrepid Travel has big news for next year, from green travel to exciting excursions in Iceland and North Africa. So, if you’re looking for some ideas for 2010, check out the five below. Intrepid’s definitely making it interesting.

1. Travel green: carbon offset
Intrepid Travel is moving more than 500 of its trips to “Carbon Offset” next year. In 2009, the company played around with the idea on 38 excursions, after having announced in December 2006 that it wanted to be carbon neutral by the end of 2010. With next year’s offering, Intrepid is certainly making progress.

2. Timor-Leste: tops for adventure
Spend 15 days in Dili and its markets, trekking out to Mt. Ramelau and wandering the Suai-area rainforest. Timor-Leste hasn’t been swamped with tourists yet, redefining “off the beaten path.” If you’re looking for the sort of experience where Intrepid excels, this is it.


3. Cairo to Casablanca: epic journey
Travel through Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as you see North Africa virtually from end to end. Along the way, you’ll trace the routes of legendary rulers and see how civilizations unfolded and fell. For 39 days, you will gain an incredible understanding of this part of the world.

4. Johannesburg: the urban experience
Intrepid’s Urban Adventures package provides short bursts of insight — from half an afternoon to a full day. Use this time to explore the South African capital on foot or by bicycle. This is a great way to get a quick taste before planning your longer excursion later.

5. Iceland: value for money
Despite the cold fall and winter seasons, Iceland‘s economy still melted down, actually making it an affordable destination. So, get the most of your experience on the ground, starting with the 22 percent discount on Intrepid’s trip up north next year. The 10-day run is available in June, July and August.

[Photo via Migrant Blogger]

Biggest Hotel Sale Ever to combat swine flu travel fears

If you are after a bargain, Mexico is where it’s at. We’ve posted about how a group of hotels have a deal for those who do get swine flu from their trip to Mexico. But since that probably isn’t going to happen, there are deals for those who don’t get sick.

There’s a “Biggest Hotel Sale Ever” campaign in Mexico through Expedia. In general prices are 26% cheaper than this time last year. Resorts also have deals on spa treatments, dinners and alcohol, so check out a resort to see what you can snag.

In case you’re worried about catching swine flu, check out this AP article . As the article explains, getting swine flu in Mexico is a long shot, and people have begun to see that these deals are not to be missed.

Here’s my take. There’s a lot of sickness you can get in all sorts of places, but they don’t end up on the news. I’m not saying that swine flu is a sickness to pooh pooh, but in reality, a person can get sick by heading to any place that has a lot of people milling about. Staying home sounds boring.

Family Package at Naples, FL Ritz makes luxury attainable

I love the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. I spent a weekend down there just shy of a year ago, and it’s become my mission in life to get back there. Until that happens, though, you may ant to see it for yourself. Even if you don’t play golf (personally, I hate the game), there is plenty to enjoy.

The Family Summer Package, which starts at $239 a night, is available from the first day of May to the last of October this year, and it comes with enough perks to make that seem like pocket change. In addition to the roof over your head, you’ll get breakfast for four, a free kids’ menu meal with each adult entrée you purchase, a $50 resort credit and a $50 gift card which is good at the resort’s retail shops. A similar packages is available at the golf resort’s sister property (which is on the beach) for $299 a night.

I know … free meal offers make me skeptical, too. What do you get? At the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, you’ll have breakfast at Lemonia, which, I assure you, is outstanding. Also, make sure you get over to the spa at the beach resort. I received the best massage of my life there as part of the Elements treatment. Don’t miss it.

While you hit the links (36 holes in total), your kids can take advantage of the Nature’s Wonders program, which is on the beach resort property. It’s an environmentally-focused program that is conducted by a team of certified Master Naturalists who can give some great insights on Florida wildlife. The Ritz-Carlton does take its environmental seriously, as I found while participating in the “Giveback Getaway” program last summer.

If you need to dash off for a few days this summer, the Family Summer Package gives you an affordable option to have an upscale experience. My only hope is that I get back there before you do (I miss the place).


Canadians flocking to Iceland, but Europeans are preferred

The economic collapse of Iceland has been covered extensively and zealously, so it’s no surprise that people are taking an interest. For Canadians, this makes even more sense, given their proximity to the country that has as many people as my neighborhood. At this time last year (when I went), just picking up dinner would cost you a fortune. Now, it’s almost half price … and that doesn’t include the great deals that are being offered.

Last year, more than 10,000 Canadians visited Iceland, effectively increasing the country’s population by 10 percent, even if only temporarily. That’s an increase of 68 percent from 2007.

Overall, Iceland welcomed just over 500,000 guests last year.

Like most travel deals, the unplanned currency-based discount won’t last forever. Like the weather up there, the economy is showing signs of thawing, thanks to a fiscal hand from the rest of the world.

For now, the 8,200-person travel industry is focusing on drawing guests from Europe. Hey, Canadians are great, but there aren’t as many of them as there are Europeans, and the small nation needs as much tourist cash as it can get. In 2008, 70,000 visitors came from the United Kingdom, followed by Germany with 45,100 and Denmark with 41,000.

Fortunately, Icelanders aren’t picky. They treated me well, and that was when the local currency was going strong.

If you go, take the walking tour. The guide predicted the fall of the Icelandic markets months ahead of time.