Travel news: hot destinations for 2011, US entry fee, smurfs in China

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It's that time of the week, where we ask our worldly Lonely Planet editors what's making travel news in their corners of the globe.

What are the hot Asia-Pacific destinations in 2011? Some weeks ago, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) released their 2010 annual report (stop yawning!). We’ve finally made sense of all the statistics in the 436 page tome. Here’s the important stuff you need to know - projected forecasts for top spots in Asia Pacific come 2011. Here’s a peek into the travel crystal ball (these are projected figures from 2007 to 2011):

  • In South Asia, Bhutan comes out tops with a projected growth of 14.02%.
  • In Southeast Asia, Cambodia and Laos are tied tops at 8.97%.
  • In Northeast Asia, Mongolia tops the list at 12.82%. China clocks in at 1.69% but will still see 141,010,321 visitors versus 736,556 in Mongolia. So everything is relative.
  • In the Pacific, Papua New Guinea clocks the only double-digit growth at 12.25%.

What does this mean? It means that there’s still time to plan that trip to these places before the end of 2010 and get in before word gets out. - Asia-Pacific travel editor Shawn Low.

You might not need a visa, but you do need cash to enter the US. The big noise this week is the compulsory US$14 pre-travel authorisation charge for nationals of countries who do not usually require visas to enter the USA. This means that if you’re from the UK, Australia, the EU and a host of other countries you’re effectively paying a few to apply to get into America. Clued-up but slightly tardy Brits logged on in their droves before the charge was introduced on Wednesday, causing the system to briefly crash.

American authorities defend the charge, saying it’s going to help fund a tourist information service, covering the whole of the USA, that currently does not exist. And to be fair to them, once you’ve applied for the ESTA scheme (beware of imitators) and been successful, you’re covered for two years no matter how many times you enter the US. As when ESTA applications were free, you need to apply at least 72 hours before travel.

Will all this have any effect? Well, outside of the EU, where nationals of member states have the right of free movement and national borders are in most cases meaningless visa charges are not uncommon. Egypt, Turkey and Russia all charge, as do many other less well-visited places. There’s little evidence it effects demand, but let’s be honest, travellers would be happier if this wasn’t happening, shiny Visit USA website to follow or not. - Tom Hall, UK travel editor

Smurfs go to China. Harry Potter infuriated London mayor Boris Johnson by daring to go, in theme-park fashion, to Orlando not his native England (here's our opening review). I wonder what he'll make of Papa Smurf heading to China? Papa, in his matching red hat and pants (no shirt), leads the Smurfs to a $2.9 million project in Chengdu (per the Wall Street Journal, due to open by 2015, perhaps sooner. If cartoons are becoming the new theme park, perhaps the US should return the Potter favor to the UK - and give London the Archies? - Robert Reid, US travel editor

And in more travel news from other places:

Travel update on planned Qur'an burning: Americans urged to be cautious abroad - LA Times

Ryanair CEO questions need for co-pilot. Customers question sanity. - Gadling

Airport hotels grow in popularity. - Gadling

Want to cut your baggage fees? Picking the right hotel might be your answer. - New York Times

Top 10 unusual McDonald's around the world. - AOL