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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pick your time to travel wisely and save money

By Irene Croft Jr.

Would you be surprised that August and from November to mid-March (except holidays) is an ideal time to savor the splendors of a less-trafficked Europe at irresistible rates?

One way to travel upscale at a bargain price is to plan your trips during a destination's "off-peak period." Many areas of the globe that are developed for tourism respond to reduced visitors and uncertain weather by designating certain months as their low season.

Thus to take up the slack, hotels and resorts, airlines, frequent flier programs, tour operators and rental car agencies will offer significant savings to travelers. Low-season travel advantages include substantially reduced prices; less crowded transport, lodgings and attractions, and access to outstanding cultural and entertainment events that often take place only during a low season.

The sole downside that I can think of is that you may need to pack an umbrella or cold-weather gear, depending on your destination.

Tourism statistics indicate that from mid-September through mid-December, excluding Thanksgiving, is typically the year's slowest season just about everywhere on the planet. As a rule of thumb, countries with changing seasons will adopt their winter months as low season and countries with year-round sun-and-surf appeal will promote summer months as their off-peak.

However, prime ski centers such as those in Canada and the European Alps are so popular that these countries virtually have two high seasons, one for warm-weather tourists and another for winter sportsmen and women.

The bottom line of the off-peak formula is that there is always an official or informal low-season in effect somewhere in the world during any given month.

You'll obtain the greatest savings by heading to New Zealand and Australia from May until October; East and Southern Africa in May and early June; and to the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico, from May to mid-December.

Certain countries have serious rainy seasons, formidable heat, ice floes, typhoons and other recurring climatic phenomena that will determine a low season for tourism.

Because many tourist destinations experience huge seasonal swings in visitor traffic, their bureaus go all out to market low-season packages. You can anticipate 15 to 50 percent discounts from hotels and resorts; airfares and tour packages, from 10 to 30 percent off; and a passel of "sweeteners" like free extra nights, food and drink credits, upgrades, souvenirs and more. If you do your homework, you'll find that the dollars you've salted away for a budget vacation can likely buy you a deluxe trip to an off-peak destination at little additional cost. And there are other incentives:

• Fewer crowds: You won't be squeezed among thousands of tourists baking on beaches, queuing for museums and climbing over ancient ruins. You and other savvy travelers will be able to maneuver about on city streets and country lanes without hordes of visitors in your wake.

• Cultural benefits: A strong appeal of globetrotting when others don't is that a city's cultural season often coincides with its country's low period for tourism. This is the season for the residents to enjoy. Although as a visitor you'll miss special outdoor festivals staged for summer travelers, you will be able to attend sparkling musical, ballet and theatre productions that may be presented only during cold months. And winter festivals, such as the spectaculars held in Japan, Scandinavia and Russia in the tourist off-season, are reason enough to pack your overcoat.

Call your travel agent now to discover all the available cut-rate opportunities for absolutely first-class destinations.

Irene Croft Jr. of Kailua, Kona, is a travel writer and 45-year veteran globetrotter.