With the Economy on the Upswing, Vacationing Is Back in Season

Travel Industry Braces for Boost This Summer as Deals Are Too Good to Pass Up

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Say goodbye to the "staycation."

Now that the economy is picking up, consumers are packing up to take advantage of summer pricing deals being offered by the $600 billion U.S. travel industry. Resorts, theme and amusement parks are expecting higher attendance, cruise-line bookings are on the rise, and the car-rental industry is gearing up for a busy summer. The notion that it's unseemly to go on holiday when the economy is in the doldrums is so last year.

BLAST FROM THE PAST: For Colonial Williamsburg, more people traveling by car is a good thing.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: For Colonial Williamsburg, more people traveling by car is a good thing.
"Nobody wanted to be a showoff or seem ostentatious by traveling during a recession," said Pauline Frommer, daughter of legendary travel guidebook guru Arthur Frommer and editor of The Pauline Frommer Guides. "This year, all that pent-up demand is back."

In a recent study by Travelocity, 49% of respondents said they planned to travel more this summer than in summer 2009.

"We're getting a sense of the increase in summer travelers just by looking at our own site traffic," said Darren Frei, online editorial director for Sherman's Travel. "Our traffic generally increases a little every April and May as people research summer vacation. This year, it was up 25% in April (over last April). That trip that people put off last year? They're taking it this year."

As the saying goes, they can't afford not to: Hotels, motels and resorts are running ad campaigns with either drastically discounted rates or huge incentives that include daily breakfast or spa treatments or rounds on the golf course. Sherman's Mr. Frei noted that domestic hotel rates have been discounted by as much as 10% compared with last year, including 18% in Las Vegas and 13% in Hawaii.

'Cruises, cruises, cruises'
Robert Sinclair Jr., media-relations manager for the Automobile Association of America New York, said that, in speaking with the organization's travel agents and bookers, he's seeing one big trend for summer: "Cruises, cruises, cruises."

"Cruising continues to be a bargain, so there's a lot of competition going on," Mr. Sinclair said. "I can think of four or five different (TV) commercials I've seen already for cruise lines."

Indeed, the Cruise Lines International Association has forecasted 14.3 million passengers for 2010, up from 13.44 million last year, thanks to steady promotions and the introduction of 12 new ships, including the 6,000-passenger behemoth Oasis of the Seas from Royal Caribbean.

But landlubbers, too, are looking to get away. Amtrak ridership was up 8% in April of this year compared to April of '09, a good indicator for summer, said company spokesman Cliff Cole. And the AAA projected a 5.4% increase in travel for the recent Memorial Day weekend as compared to last year's Memorial Day holiday, and it expects about the same increase for rest of the summer.

More people traveling by car is good news for Colonial Williamsburg. "We're a driving destination; our market is from New York to North Carolina," said Sally McConnell, director-brand strategy and marketing communications for the historic Virginia tourist destination. "But our customers are diverse, so we really needed to reach out in different ways with different packages. The response to them has been terrific."

Ms. McConnell said a strong Memorial Day and a nearly sold-out July in advance bookings for the nearly 1,000 hotel rooms in the area validated her decision to launch a brand campaign in February.

"The campaign speaks to people's desire to immerse and engage," she said of the initiative, called "Be Part of the Story." McCann Erickson did the creative, Y Partnership in Orlando helped with the hospitality marketing, and Colonial Williamsburg also hired Brands on Fire, Greenville, S.C., to handle word-of-mouth and social media.

Disney specials
With expectations for increased travel so high, theme parks and amusement parks are also gearing up and hoping to cash in after a flat 2009. According to the Themed Entertainment Association, total visitors to the top 20 parks in the U.S. in 2009 numbered 121.4 million, a decline of 1.1% from 2008.

To boost those numbers, marketers like Walt Disney Co. (which enjoyed a slight increase last year at nearly all of its global parks) are marketing summer specials. Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, for example, is offering its quick-service dining plan for free to customers who book a five-night/six-day room and theme park ticket package between August 15 and October 2.

"Disney has discounted much more deeply than I've seen in late summer, which is unusual for them," Ms. Frommer said. "But if the projections for travel this year are correct, they want some of that business."

Even the travel sector that has been increasing rates -- airlines -- expects to do a brisk business this summer. "The numbers are significantly up. Year over year have been stronger for each month of the year," said David Cush, CEO of Virgin Atlantic. "Memorial Day was well beyond even our most optimistic expectations. Going into June and July, we're seeing the return of business traffic and the willingness of leisure fliers to pay what it takes to go where they want to go when they want to go."

Last summer, the major airlines dropped their fares by an average of 23% from 2008 prices, but this year fares have climbed about 13% over last year, according to Sherman's Travel. Even so, airlines expect an uptick of about 1% in the number of leisure flyers this summer, according to the Air Transport Association.

"We're seeing that a demand for our leisure and vacation markets is up," said Ashley Dillon, spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines. "Across the board, we are in a better position than we were last summer with both leisure and business travel."

The stronger demand may not translate into everyone flying off to exotic locales, though. Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor for Travelocity, recently told CBS News that while the "'staycation' is probably dead," would-be vacationers may still settle for some time away at nearby locations. She calls it the "nearcation."

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