Published on Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer outlook for travel is strong

The summer outlook for North American travel: more. The same word can be used for international visitors, according to most predictors of this summer’s travel patterns. More again.

That was the consensus of AAA officials, US Travel Association members and Best Western International executives at a recent Leisure Travel Summit in New York City.

 “As the economy continues to improve, we are seeing more people planning summer family getaways than in the past few years,” said Travel Guard Vice President, Carol Mueller.

One example: Advanced travel reservations for this summer are up more than four percent at Best Western hotels.

 “Americans who made the decision to cut back on spending last year in order to save more, which meant postponing a vacation, are now actively planning and booking summer travel this year, which we believe will translate to a strong summer for our Member hoteliers,” said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Best Western.

Will rising gas prices discourage auto travelers? The consensus answer: no.

Despite gas prices more than $1 per gallon higher than the same time last year, Gary Oster, U.S. Travel’s senior vice president of business development, remains optimistic that travelers won’t divert from their travel plans.

“The reality is that for the average family driving 500 miles for their summer vacation the increase in their gas budget will be the equivalent of just two pizzas,” said Oster, US Travel’s senior vice president for business development. He added:

“Because Americans have been putting more into savings the past two to three years, travelers are unlikely to postpone a planned vacation this summer to the beach or one of our national parks over the cost of a dinner or two out.”

Rather than promote last-minute deals during the peak summer season, airlines, rental car brands and hotels are more likely to offer extras or value-added promotions rather than heavily discounted rates or fares as they did last summer, travel observers say.

“Travelers will find this year that they’re offered things they normally wouldn’t have before in the quoted price, such as a free breakfast, discounted passes to local attractions or bonus miles or points, rather than the ‘everything must go’ sales on seats and rooms,” said Glen MacDonell, director, AAA Travel Services.

Along with millions of Americans on the road, a growing number of international travelers, especially those from Asia and Europe, are expected to vacation this summer at popular US destinations.

Among destinations, cultural and educational experiences top the list of popular places. A Travelguard poll found almost one third planned a trip of this nature. Sunny destinations trailed only slightly.

Surveys show the appetite for weekend getaways has grown. The American Express Spending & Saving Tracker says 59 percent of Americans plan to travel this summer, compared to 51 percent last year.

Early summer traffic reflects recent reports that indicate workers are more inclined to take vacations this year because they feel more secure.

"Job security is the strongest it has been in several years, as corporate job cutting shrinks to pre-recession lows," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. in a prepared statement. "But stagnant wages and soaring gasoline prices are likely to limit the amount of money people are willing to spend on vacations."

By David Wilkening

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