Fall is typically the slowest time of the year for the travel industry as cool air creeps in, children head back to school and the holiday season lurks on the horizon.

As demand lags, however, hotels, cruises and airlines offer some of the best deals of the year to keep Americans out and about.

George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, told IBTimes last week that you can find the biggest sales between Sept. 7 and mid-October, and then again between Columbus Day and Thanksgiving.

"Only the period from after New Year's to about Feb. 15 compares for low airfares," he said.

Taylor Cole, director of public relations at Hotels.com, agreed, adding that "hotels are offering free WiFi, free breakfast, waving resort fees or offering excursions."

This year, it seems, people are listening to the expert advice.

Travel Leaders Group, which manages leisure, business and franchise travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands, released its annual Fall Travel Trends survey Tuesday, and optimism is the defining message.

The survey, conducted from July 30 to Aug. 23, includes booking responses from 871 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents, including Travel Leaders Group's Luxury Travel Network, Nexion, Results! Travel, Tzell Travel Group and Vacation.com units. More than half the agents reported year-on-year bookings better than 2011 -- great news for the traditionally lackluster "shoulder season." Moreover, 92.6 percent of the agents surveyed said they were either positive or neutral about the outlook for the remainder of 2012.

Among domestic destinations, Maui is making the biggest waves, according to the survey, sliding up the chart three spots this year to No. 2 behind perennial leader Las Vegas. Maui bumped dream-maker Orlando down to No. 3 just ahead of New York City (No. 4) and Honolulu (No. 5). San Francisco (No. 6), Washington (No. 7), Chicago (No. 8), Los Angeles (No. 9) and Fort Lauderdale (No. 10) rounded out the top 10 domestic destinations.

Cruising through the Caribbean continues to be the top choice for international travel. Cancun and Riviera Maya, Mexico (No. 2 and No. 4); Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (No. 7); and Montego Bay, Jamaica (No. 8) also remain popular destinations in their own right.

Outside of the Caribbean, Europe proved surprisingly popular for the fall. Mediterranean Cruises (No. 2) and European river cruises (No. 10) both climbed up the rankings this year. The most popular cities, meanwhile, are Rome (No. 5), London (No. 6) and Paris (No. 9).

"The value in heading to Europe in the fall is reflected in our survey rankings," stated Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben.  "What is most encouraging from an industry perspective is that eight out of every 10 agents polled indicate their business is on par or better than last year at this time. That says that our clients have the peace of mind to go explore -- both close to home and internationally -- despite the uncertainty in economic markets domestically and in Europe."

As Travel Leaders Group expresses its optimism that numbers will be up, experts maintain that prices will stay down.


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