Orlando rated best value in American travel, but SF hotel prices on the way up
Thinking of your summer holidays? On a budget? The folks at Hotwire.com (based in San Francisco, and more on that in a minute) have announced their seventh annual Hotwire Travel Value Index study.
They named Orlando as the place to get the most for your holiday/vacation spending, with an overall Travel Value Index of 100 from a study that takes into account low prices for air, hotels and rental cars, discounts on those same items and affordable entertainment.
It's hard to argue with the Orlando findings. I've been a few times in the past and it seems to me you can always find a hotel for $70 or $80 a night, almost always with a pool and a shuttle to take you to the theme parks. And the parks are getting bigger and better each year, with the Harry Potter rides/park at Universal the most noted addition but also Legoland. Oh, yeah, and Disney of course.
The state of Florida did very well in this study, as Tampa (presumably including St. Petersburg and Clearwater/Dunedin) came sixth in the U.S. and Miami 10th, which is perhaps a tad surprising. Texas also did a great job, with Dallas coming third and Houston fourth.
Here's the full list with scores:
1. Orlando, 100
2. Atlanta, 98
3. Dallas Fort-Worth, 97
4. Houston, 93
5. Phoenix, 92
6. Tampa, 91
7. Denver, 84
8. Charlotte, 80
9.Albuquerque, New Mexico, 79
10. Miami, 79
If you're looking for summer holidays, I'd probably avoid most of these cities except Orlando, which is great for the kids (and a lot of adults) and possibly Tampa or Miami as at least they have the beach. The other cities are pretty darn warm in the summer, aside from mile-high Denver, which is a pretty good city to visit due to great restaurants, brewpubs and some fun shopping districts. Not to mention the nearby mountains and historic sights.
Of course, a lot of this is based on affordability. Which isn't necessarily the same thing as value. One of the glossy travel magazines I read regularly, it might have been Lonely Planet, rated New York and the U.S. northeast as one of the best values in the world a few months ago. It sounds silly in a way, but it's also kinda true. If you're in Toronto, New York is cheap to get to, especially with AIr Canada, WestJet and Porter in an airfare/public relations war over New York City. Hotels are more expensive than Orlando, for sure, but you still can find reasonable deals in the city for less than $200 a night. Theatre can be expensive, but there are plenty of lower-cost options. There are a billion inexpensive Italian and Thai and other restaurants all over Manhattan, some of the museums offer free days or discounts, and last time I checked it was free to walk through Central Park (see photo at left) and stroll up and down Fifth Avenue or gaze at the cast-iron buildings in SoHo or walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and check out the increasing hip areas on the other side of the East River.
Any big city can be cheap outside of perhaps Scandinavia. London has a slew of hotel rooms for $100 or less, some of them pretty decent in reasonable parts of town. Paris can be quite reasonable if you go a little away from the major tourist spots or don't mind a small room at a Best Western Hotel, almost all of which are clean and include breakfast. So check out the Hotwire list, but be sure to cast your eyes all over this wonderful world of ours. There are deals aplenty if you look around a little.
SAN FRANCISCO PRICES ON THE WAY UP?
On the other hand, I spotted an item in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day that said hotel owners are quite happy and that more good news is coming.
"Anything in San Francisco is in demand," Al Reay of Atlas Hospitality Group, a hotel industry research group, told Andrew Ross of the Chronicle.
Reay said hotels in the San Francisco Bay Area have enjoyed the largest revenue increases in the country during the recent recovery. The Chronicle story said sales volumes and dollar amounts being posted by SF hotels haven't been this good since 2007. Reay said the average increase last year was a solid 15 per cent and that numbers could be even rosier (for hotel people) in 2012.
"Rates are nowhere near maxed out," he said.
Just for fun, I went to one of the major websites this morning and looked for rooms in San Francisco for four nights, beginning Friday June 13th (heck, why not?). I found a room at the Handlery Union Square (pretty busy area but the room reviews were pretty decent) for $189. The Westin on Market Street had only limited rooms available but it was listed on Expedia for $204 per night; pretty good value. The Serrano, run by the high-end Kimpton group, had rooms for $239.
I like to occasionally steer adventurous folks (especially if you have a car) to the Seal Rock Inn, just steps from the beach and the wonderful Cliff House restaurant. I don't know what their vacancies are like right now, but in summer you can get rooms starting as low as $125.
It's an old-time, funky spot that bills itself as the city's only oceanfront, motor inn. I stayed there for a wedding a few years back and it was delightful, with a great little cafe and, wait for it, free parking. That's gold, Jerry, gold!
STARWOOD'S LUXURY HOTEL SPREE AND EUROPE BOOM
The folks at Starwood this week announced they'll open 25 new hotels in Europe this year. They just opened a W hotel in Paris and a Le Meridien (we have one in Toronto, the King Edward) in Istanbul, and they're planning a big push in Russia, Ukraine and Turkey.
Perhaps more interesting is that officials say Starwood has grown its luxury room count around the world by 75 per cent in the last four years. In 2012, more than 60 per cent of their new hotels will be in the luxury and "upper-upscale segment," and, yes, that's the first time I've ever typed out the phrase "upper-upscale." I mean, what's lower-upscale or medium-upscale? Worse, what's lower-lowscale?
The W hotels have been a big boon for Starwood all over the globe. They just opened the W Paris - Opera (see photo above left) and also have hotels in London, Barcelona, St. Petersburg and Istanbul. They'lll open the new W Milan this year and also their first ski resort, the W Verbier Retreat and Spa in Switzerland.
THANKS TO WASHINGTON D.C. AND VIRGINIA BEACH
Oops, don't want to forget to say thank you to the tourism folks from Washington D.C. and Virginia Beach. They joined forces with Porter Airlines this week to throw an incredible, and I mean incredible, dinner at Le Germain Maple Leaf Square to celebrate Porter's soon-to-come flights from Toronto to D.C. (starting April 16).
Virginia Beach is a fun and lively spot a couple hours from D.C., with lots of great hotels and miles of beach for the kids. And D.C. is always an incredible destination, a real cross between the north and south with history galore, great shopping, fine hotels and an embarrassment of tourist sights; everything from the White House to the remarkable Smithsonian Institution to the powerful Lincoln Memorial. I always enjoy strolling and dining in Georgetown, which has a great waterfront (see photo above right).
An overlooked city, in some ways. But a definite must-see for Canadians and Americans alike.