Trends: Eco-hotels, cruises, Croatia await in '08

From hotels to cruising, adventure travel to destinations, USA TODAY asks travel industry insiders to predict the hottest trends for the new year. Here's what in the air — and on land and sea — for intrepid travelers.

Hotels

•Walking the eco-talk. "Probably the No. 1 trend is the greening of the hotel industry," American Hotel & Lodging Association president Joe McInerney says. But there's confusion over what green means, and which lodgings are truly eco-friendly. "Every hotel company has an environmental specialist, and we're working with them to develop a certification program in the next 90 days," he says. It will involve "an inspection, not just trusting" self-reported eco-programs. Inspection results may be tied to AAA ratings, he says.

•Viva Las Vegas! Vegas hotels are on a roll, with 2007 occupancy above 90%, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says. More luxury Strip joints are on the way — The Palazzo, sister hotel to The Venetian, opens next week. Donald Trump is moving in with a condo hotel due later this year. Vegas "has a wonderful market in the USA and China, and they're raising the level of amenities," says Dick Johnson, editor of the Hotel-Online.com newsletter.

• No break on rates. The average rate at U.S. hotels broke the $100 barrier for the first time in 2007, Smith Travel Research says. Rates are projected to rise 5% this year, says Smith's Jan Freitag. Despite recession fears, "I don't think you're going to see much discounting," McInerney says. Hoteliers did that after 9/11, and it took years for rates to creep back. Hotels magazine editor in chief Jeff Weinstein thinks business "will be flat," and if rooms go begging, expect discounting.

• "Lifestyle" lodgings. A wave of affordable, design-centric, tech-friendly hotels with lobbies as social hubs will wash over the landscape. Hyatt Place, Aloft, NYLO and other chains will expand or arrive. Appealing to multi-tasking Gen-X and Y guests, "they're the new generation of W hotels, more for the mass market," McInerney says.

• Gizmos and gadgets. "Completely wired rooms" (plug laptops or music players into TVs and speakers, for instance) and free WiFi will proliferate, Weinstein says. A sub trend: "Technology gone wrong," Johnson says. He is seeing 32- and 42-inch digital flat-screen TVs with bad reception, because "the cable system is charging too much" for high-definition TV or hotel service is not available. "Sometimes the picture is worse than if you had the old analog TV."

— Kitty Bean Yancey

Cruises

• The ship within a ship. Until recently, "it really was just Cunard that promoted a class system," but the concept is spreading, says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruisecritic.com. On Norwegian's newest vessels, including the month-old Norwegian Gem, "people who buy courtyard villa cabins are in a sense residing in a boutique hotel (separate from the rest of the ship) with an edgier ambience, more pampered services, and dedicated pool and sundeck areas." Costa, Celebrity and Carnival, meanwhile, are rolling out premium "spa cabins," where cruisers dine in an exclusive spa restaurant away from others.

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