Myanmar, Marseille, New Zealand and Gettysburg are all on the travel radar for 2013 thanks to new tours, events and anniversaries. But the best pitch for travel in the new year might just be coming from Ireland, which is running ads "calling all Flynns, O'Malleys and Schweizenbergs" to the Emerald Isle for a unique grassroots homecoming called "The Gathering."
Here are details on these and other places, events and travel trends for 2013.
IRELAND'S THE GATHERING
"It's a citizen-led initiative to attract people who are Irish-born, Irish-bred or Irish in spirit to join us in 2013," said Bernard McMullan of Tourism Ireland. "It's almost become a competition where one county, town or village tries to have as quirky a gathering as the next."
More than 2,000 events are already planned, including events for redheads and left-handers as well as reunions based on family names and clans.
The U.S. Census Bureau says 34.7 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, and Arabella Bowen, executive editorial director of Fodor's Travel, is one of them. Even President Barack Obama has an Irish ancestor in the family tree. "There are Irish people all over the world," said Bowen. "It will be great fun being able to connect with others going back for this event. It's like an entire year of St. Patrick's Day parties."
President Obama's historic recent visit to Myanmar — the first ever by a sitting U.S. president — is adding to already heated-up interest in the country, which has only fully opened to tourism in the last few years. Fodor's Bowen says it's especially attractive to people who are already well traveled and are seeking that next unknown destination.
Many tour companies are adding Myanmar trips due to demand and the U.S. Tour Operators Association's active members named Myanmar No. 1 on a list of "off-the-beaten path" countries they foresee becoming popular in 2013.
New Zealand received a huge boost in tourism from fans of "The Lord of the Rings" movie trilogy, and the release of the new movie "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is focusing attention on the destination once again. All four of the movies were filmed in New Zealand.
The French port city Marseille is one of two European capitals of culture in 2013, along with the Slovakian city of Kosice. Fodor's Bowen says Marseille "has been overlooked in the past" by a lot of travelers heading to the lavender fields and wineries of Provence, but she believes it's ripe for a "renaissance" with new hotels, art galleries and culinary hotspots. XL Airways France is launching direct flights from New York in late May.
Several important anniversaries take place in 2013, with exhibits and events to mark them.
—Gettysburg, Pa., is marking 150 years since the famous Civil War battle, which took place July 1-13, 1863. The town will also mark the sesquicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln's brief but brilliant 272-word speech, the Gettysburg Address, which he delivered Nov. 19, 1863 at the battlefield cemetery.
Marquee events for the battle commemoration, including reenactments and tours, will take place June 28 to July 7, but there will be activities and programs throughout the year. On July 1, the new Seminary Ridge Museum opens in a building that was used as a soldiers' hospital. Union Gen. John Buford also used the structure's cupola to scout the countryside on the battle's first day.
—Dallas plans a ceremony to mark 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, at the exact time and place where shots rang out: Dealey Plaza, Nov. 22, 12:25 p.m. The ceremony will begin with church bells tolling and a moment of silence, followed by a reading of Kennedy's speeches, songs, prayers and a military flyover. Special programming is also planned by many other sites, from the Newseum in Washington, D.C., to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, located in a building where a sniper's nest and rifle were found following the shooting.
—Saratoga, N.Y., is planning a May to September celebration with festivals and concerts marking the 150th anniversary of the race course, where watching the horses remains a fun and popular pastime. The town is also known for upscale eateries and lodging along with Saratoga Spa State Park, with its beautiful pools and natural springs.
—New York City's Grand Central Terminal kicks off its centennial Feb. 1 with a rededication of the landmarked Beaux Arts station. Performances, lectures, exhibits and tours are planned throughout the year.
—Florida is marking the state's 500th anniversary of European discovery and exploration, with events in all 67 counties.
Next summer will see the popular 3-D ride based on the "Transformers" movies opening at Universal's theme park in Orlando. "Transformers: The Ride — 3D" previously opened this past May at Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles.
At Disneyland in California, spring will see the opening of Fantasy Faire, located at Fantasyland and dedicated to Disney heroes and heroines. At Disney World near Orlando, Fla., a new attraction called Princess Fairytale Hall, where guests can meet Disney princesses, is also scheduled to open in 2013. Princess Fairytale Hall will be located at the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland, which opened in early December, doubling the size of the original Fantasyland. Both parks are offering weekly surprises for guests as part of a yearlong 2013 program called Limited Time Magic.
THE BEACH, POST-SANDY
Superstorm Sandy destroyed beaches, boardwalks and waterfront attractions all along the mid-Atlantic coast. Many communities on the Jersey shore, the beloved pier in Ocean City, Md., and elsewhere are hoping to have infrastructure rebuilt by summer.
On Coney Island, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the landmark Cyclone and Wonder Wheel rides are in good condition along with other amusement park attractions and are expected to reopen in spring as usual, along with the famous hot dog eatery Nathan's and the home stadium for the Cyclones minor league baseball team. The New York Aquarium at Coney has been closed due to damage from flooding but hopes to reopen some if not all exhibits by summer.
HOTEL BOOKING TRENDS
According to Anne Banas, executive editor of Smarter Travel, ever-increasing airfares and airline fees have forced travelers to focus on the other big-ticket item in vacation spending: Hotels. "It's all about hotels now and hotel deals," she said, adding that interest is skyrocketing in hotel booking sites, apps and membership-only sites. The vacation rental market is changing too, with more owners allowing people to book for a weekend of a few nights instead of the Sunday-to-Sunday week.
Banas said sites like SniqueAway, Jetsetter and the Vacationist are becoming more popular "because you can get a more luxurious property for lower prices — you can stay at a four- or five-star hotel for the price of a three-star. But you have to be more flexible. You have to take what's being offered, which might be offseason or slow season."
Another site, Tingo, "automatically rebooks you at a lower price if the price drops, and issues you a refund," Banas said. "Tingo does all the work. It's a nice passive way to save some money."
Several new sites and apps offer highly discounted hotel rooms that can only be booked that night, including HotelTonight and Priceline's Tonight -Only Deals.
"This is for two types of people — people who are really last-minute, flexible travelers, or people whose flight is canceled and they need a hotel tonight," Banas said.
Jan Freitag of STR, which tracks hotel data, said mobile apps are becoming a "preferred travel booking tool" to the point where some travel startups are forgoing websites for app-only hotel booking models.
Ann Mack, director of Trendspotting at JWT, the advertising agency, is noting several trends for 2013 with implications for travelers. For the trend toward "intelligent things" — tech-enabled smart devices — one example offered by JWT is The Hop, a prototype suitcase that literally follows you around using a system based on sensors that track Bluetooth signals from a smartphone.
JWT says another trend, the "Super Stress Era," will lead to ramped-up efforts to fight stress. Examples include the San Francisco International Airport's yoga room and the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport's 1.4-mile walking loop.
—The George W. Bush Presidential Center opens in the spring on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
—In Nashville, the Johnny Cash Museum is expected to open in the spring.
—American Express reports an emerging interest in safaris "beyond Africa," from "Borneo's orangutans to Cambodia's elephants, India's tigers to Indonesia's komodo dragons."