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Travelers Emphasize Authentic Experiences

According to the Washington-based Travel Industry Association of America, the international travel and tourism industry experienced strong growth in 2006, and additional expansion of 4.6% per year is expected over the next 10 years. Thanks to a stable economy, steady wage increases and the lack of any major recent terrorist attacks in popular vacation spots, Americans in particular have indulged their wanderlust. And in 2007, industry experts say the most popular trips will have one thing in common.

In a recent Forbes magazine article, Misty Ewing, the director of public relations at Texas-based Virtuoso, a luxury travel network says “the emphasis really is on experiential travel. People are looking for more authentic experiences and ways to immerse themselves in local cultures. Now, I think that when people go on vacation, they really want to learn and know the destinations they’re visiting. They want to experience it to its fullest extent.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, eco-tourism is a big part of this trend. Popular with Americans, according to the Forbes article, are countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala and Panama, whose natural resources and wildlife put them front and center for travelers in 2007.

Of course, to offset the human impact of all that traffic, and preserve their rain forests and habitats, many of these countries have introduced resorts powered by sustainable energy and built with renewable resources. In Panama’s northern coast, for example, an up-market lodge was built using local materials like clay, bamboo and wild cane, and solar panels and bio-digesters, which clean waste water, are located in each of the nine cabins.

Another big destination for 2007 is Laos, where a series of new luxury hotels is making old cities attractive to a new generation of travelers. Pallavi Shah, founder of New York-based Our Personal Guest travel agency says “it’s different and laid back–what Vietnam was.”

Ms. Shah visited Luang Prabang, Laos’ formal royal capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995, and observed local craftswomen working in textiles, silver and wood. The accommodations in Luang Prabang, however, are surprisingly modern: She recommends La Residence Phou Vao, an Orient-Express resort with views over the surrounding mountains and rivers.

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