By and  on February 9, 2006

The most popular international travel destinations for 2006.

The holidays are over, and spring isn't quite here yet, making February a terrific time to book that vacation you've been dreaming about. Carlson Wagonlit Travel's 2006 Travel Trends Survey, conducted at year-end 2005, polled almost 400 owners, managers and frontline agents nationwide and asked respondents to forecast the most popular travel spots based on bookings to date for 2006. "Agents book travel for customers up to 11 months in advance," said Steve Loucks, senior director of public relations for Minneapolis-based Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, the franchise leisure travel arm of Carlson Cos. Natural disasters had the biggest impact on future travel, but vacationers are still hitting hurricane hot spots such as Mexico and the Caribbean. International travel overall is up, versus three to four years ago, after 9/11.

1. CRUISES TO THE CARIBBEAN
Percentage of agents surveyed who named this as a top destination for their clients: 76.3
The Caribbean islands, such as St. Maarten (seen at left), the Virgin Islands and Barbados, anxiously await the influx of cruises each week. It's a big business not just for cruise lines, but also for their destination ports. Cruise Lines International Association forecast that 11.7 million passengers will cruise this year, an increase of 500,000 over last year, with 10.1 million originating in North America. Some 3.6 million passengers traveled on cruises out of the Port of Miami in 2005 — most heading for the Caribbean. "There are more ships floating around the Caribbean than any other place in the world," said Steve Loucks of Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

2. RIVIERA MAYA, MEXICO
Percentage: 51.2
The Riviera Maya is a stretch of land along the coast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, located south of Cancún. Last fall, Hurricane Wilma wreaked havoc along the coastline, but spared most of this part of the region. Some luxury hoteliers, such as the Fairmont and the Mandarin Oriental, are taking the plunge and breaking ground this year, despite the annual hurricane concerns. Luxury hotels aside, perhaps one of the most unique aspects of this destination is its easy access to the ancient Mayan ruins. The Mayan ruins at Tulum (seen at left) can be found right on Mexico's coast. And the national park at Xel-Há boasts some of the best snorkeling around.

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