Where can you find the best prices, and the best experiences, this year?Look to the destinations that need your business the most

After two slow years, travel is taking off again. Some destinations are busier than ever, even if others remain in a slump. We examined worldwide air- travel and hotel-occupancy trends over the past year and a half, as well as projections for the coming months, to point you to places where you'll find good deals and fewer crowds. A caveat: With airlines in financial distress, bargain airfares to some regions may be increasingly hard to find.

UNITED STATES AND CANADA Many Americans are staying close to home, and it's not a bad idea for those looking to save: on average, hotel-room rates are cheaper than they were a year ago. At press time, the overall picture for the U.S. was mixed—international arrivals were down while domestic travel was rebounding—but even destinations that had been picking up, such as Hawaii, remained below pre-9/11 levels. For the best prices, head to urban areas that need to fill hotel rooms; Ernst & Young expects occupancy rates to decline this year in Phoenix, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. "There's more interest in scenic drives and national monuments," explains the Travel Industry Association's Cathy Keefe. In Canada, a recent upward trend was slowed by the Iraq conflict and, in Toronto, by SARS—and prices have been affected accordingly.

LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN U.S. travelers have cut back on overseas trips this year, but not on trips to Latin America, where air traffic was increasing this spring, according to the Air Transport Association. The busiest areas this winter should be Central America (tourism there grew last year by nearly 10 percent)and Mexican resorts such as Cancún and Cozumel. Less crowded will be the Caribbean and South America, which is bouncing back after a 7 percent drop in arrivals last year.

EUROPE Fewer Americans may be heading to Europe these days, but that hasn't meant a slow year on the Continent. Eastern European and Mediterranean countries have been especially popular, so now could be the time to revisit an old favorite in Western Europe. And while the number of visitors to the U.K. has increased slightlythis year, the country predicts a 15 percent decline in international tourist spending in 2003. Given the pound's relative value for Americans compared with the euro, Britain should be a good buy.

REST OF THE WORLD Want to head farther afield?Even with the SARS crisis waning, international air traffic to Asia has been down considerably, and you'll likely find amazing deals there through year's end; consider a trip to any country deemed safe by the World Health Organization (www.who.int/en; for security concerns, check for State Department advisories at travel.state.gov). Australia is also a good bet: although travelers still consider it a top destination (see the World's Best Awards), business has been down in recent months. And East Africa is worth a look—Kenya has seen a decrease in arrivals, while Tanzania is flat. Destinations that should be busy through December include South Africa (up 11 percent this spring) and New Zealand.

—Reported by Jane Bills, Amy Farley, and Lisa Kalis