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Hot destinations and top Canadian travel trends for 2014

As we wrap up another eventful year in travel, takes a sneak peek at what's ahead for 2014. Of course, since past is prologue, much of what's to come was shaped by events in 2013.

The Rise of the Super Airline

For American and international travellers, one of the biggest stories of the past year is the rise of the super airline. With the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, United Airlines' rule as the largest airline ended. Soon the U.S. market will have three dominant airlines - Delta, United and American - that are all aiming to reshape travel in their home market and abroad.

The impact on the American-US Airways merger on international travel will start soon. On March 31, US Airways will drop its membership in the Star Alliance (where Air Canada's a member) to join oneworld (WestJet's partner alliance). This shift in international airline partner base will leave heavy mileage accumulators ad frequent overseas travellers with some homework and head scratching to do and possibly some tough decisions to make. It might also encourage some folks who have been planning to cash in for a big trip to get moving already.

With United, Delta and the new American all truly super sized, look for an increased focus on more than just where an airline flies. Established players will be looking to one up one another with new fleets featuring larger planes, longer flying time and fancy amenities. Witness Air Canada's new Dreamliners that will be treating passengers to non-stop flights to Tel Aviv and Tokyo with modern comforts like universal power outlets, touch screen infotainment consoles and, in the forward cabin, flat beds with built-in massage features. Of course, for the price-conscious traveller, these improvements come with a price as airlines will have even more opportunity to nickel and dime for basics, like a few more inches of leg room.

While power airlines battle especially for big budget passengers and long-haul flights, there will likely be more room down market for those competing on base price. Perhaps this is opportunity knocking for the WestJets and Porter Airlines of the world in the same way that it is for many regional and low-cost airlines in the U.S.

Travel Hot Spots

Canadians chase the sun. That's a well known fact. However, it's not all Miami and Fort Lauderdale anymore. In 2013, Canadians went for the Florida Gulf Coast too. Fort Myers, Fla., in particular had a big jump in popularity with 32 per cent more travel searches than in the previous year.

Further south, Jamaica really took the spotlight. The relatively new Ian Fleming Airport in Ocho Rios, which opened in early 2011, replacing a smaller, more local airport, captured a lot of attention from aspiring Canadian travellers. Searches were up 33 per cent in 2012. The island's other airports also showed big gains in traveller interest with Montego Bay registering 24 per cent, Kingston 21 per cent and Negril 14 per cent increases in searches.

Mexico is rebounding as a destination for Canadians with Puerto Vallarta spiking 26 per cent and Cancun 24 per cent for annual increases in travel searches.

Closer to home, Toronto and Vancouver continue to be the most popular overall Canadian cities. (In fact, Toronto eclipsed Las Vegas as the most-searched destination on in 2013). However, it's Edmonton that revealed itself as the new up and comer with a very impressive 43 per cent increase in searches versus 2012.

For 2014, we see signs that Canadian travellers will keep chasing the sun, looking for new bargain destinations and travel for events. Watch for the following:

The year of Brazil -- With the Olympics on the horizon and the World Cup coming this summer (June 12 to July 13), Brazil is working hard to be a welcoming host country to sports fans and tourists in general. Already a popular destination, especially during Carnival, Brazil is building out infrastructure for its major upcoming events. Even so, capacity is tight. If you are planning to visit during the World Cup, act now. Even during the offseason, it's advisable to book four months in advance.

Paying homage in Europe -- 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I so this may be a year for history buffs and family members to visit the battlefields to reconnect with and remember loved ones who sacrificed across Europe in the "war to end all wars".

Caribbean distinction -- Images of crystal blue water and white sandy beaches are the ubiquitous daydream of the Caribbean. However the islands have a mix of cultures, climates and currencies that make it worthwhile to do your homework before you book. Some recent changes, especially in the Dutch Antilles, mean some key island countries have new-found autonomy. As a result, they have - and will - continue to ramp up how they market themselves.

Be prepared to see an increase in other parts of the Caribbean pushing what makes them stand out. Price will be one point but so will ease of access (direct flights, passport requirements), travel style (nightlife versus beach views, family versus adventure, chic versus laid back) and activities (diving and bare boating - or cruise ships and shops).

Staying ahead of the crowds -- As deal destinations get popular, they lose their unique appeal-of-the-new charm - and their bargain status. The challenge is to spot the next wave of alternatives and beat the growing crowds and climbing prices. This year's list: Instead of Costa Rica, try Nicaragua. Skip Malta and head for Albania. Swap Bulgaria for Estonia. Opt for Laos over Vietnam.

The Connected Passenger

As we flip the calendar from 2013 to 2014, we are in the heyday of a major transition in terms of the individual flier's travel experience. Gone are the days of simply reading a book or flipping through a magazine to pass the time on a flight. Whether you are watching satellite TV or playing trivia against your cabin mates on the airplane's infotainment system or, more likely, glued to your tablet, laptop or phone for videos, games or news from the outside world, you are now a "connected passenger".

The rules and technology will push this trend even further over the next 12 to 36 months. In-flight WiFi is on the verge of blazing new speeds with vendors eyeing satellite technology to deliver more capacity. Meanwhile, in the U.S, the FAA has relaxed the rules about personal electronic device use below 10,000 feet. Soon, on U.S. airlines at least, you will be able to keep reading, playing your games and watching your movies right through landing and takeoff.

And the next hot debate just south of the border, which Canadian travellers, airlines and regulators are all watching closely, is whether you will be able to chat away on your cell phone during flights. The debate is on as the FCC is currently considering lifting a ban on cell phone use on flights offered by U.S. airlines. Some members of Congress are already moving to block in-flight calls. So, while Canadian airlines still maintain the status quo where smartphones and electronic devices are concerned, Transport Canada will be watching the impact these new regulations have on our U.S. neighbours. The results could shape the future for travellers on Canadian airlines.

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