Road trips help rev up tourism industry

Posted: Friday, July 05, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Deborah Dallinger's hassles as she navigated security checks on her recent European vacation persuaded her to stick closer to home this summer.

''It's one thing to spend 10 hours on a plane to France, but it's another to spend four hours at the airport,'' the 52-year-old Walnut Creek resident said. ''When I go on vacation, I just want it to be easy.''

Dallinger will spend her remaining vacation driving to visit friends in Santa Barbara and staying at her favorite bed and breakfast in Inverness. Her experience is like that of many Americans who are flocking to state parks, beaches and the mountains while doing more driving and less flying.

Although tourism across the country this summer is expected to continue its gradual recovery from the devastating impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, people are definitely traveling differently.


Brian Compton, of Suisun City, Calif., takes a photo of the memorial plaques at the Arizona Memorial visitor center at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as his children, Kyle and Angela, left, and wife, Kristine, look on Thursday, June 20, 2002. Tourism across the country this summer is expected to continue its gradual climb back from the devastating impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the decline in business and leisure travel that started earlier last year as the recession setit.

AP Photo/Ronen Zilberman

''More people are driving and people have basically doubled the amount they are willing to drive to avoid the hassle of airports,'' said Ed McWilliams of D.K. Shifflet & Assoc. Ltd., which has polled 2,400 frequent travelers nationwide every week or so since last October.

The survey found that people are willing to drive as much as eight hours to avoid the hassles and delays prompted by heightened security at airports. That's twice as long as they were willing to drive before Sept. 11.

Analysts say tourism should be close to last summer's level, although not all sectors will recover equally. Hotels will see an uneven recovery as travelers spend more time visiting family members and campgrounds.

''The recovery has been driven by leisure travelers,'' said Peter Yesawich, president of Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown, a marketing services firm. ''Business travel demand flatlined last November and has not recovered.''

Vermont tourism officials are expecting bookings an inn and lodges to be on par with last year, while campgrounds reservations are running ahead of previous levels, a reflection of the trend toward more family travel.

''Traditionally at the state parks, when the economy is down a little, people pick a less expensive way of vacation,'' Larry Simino, director of state parks, said.

People are also choosing to spend their time off with loved ones.

''Especially after last fall, people seem to be doing more family things,'' said Diane Konrady of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing.

In California, campgrounds saw an immediate 20 percent jump in reservations after Sept. 11, an indication that people who otherwise might have planned out-of-state trips had decided to stay close to home. Bed and breakfast inns in the state's wine country and other locales are also seeing an increase in guests.

Inns offering packages that include dinner at a local restaurant or tours of nearby attractions are tapping into the desire by consumers for deals. The Inn at Occidental in Sonoma, Calif., has already seen a return to its pre-Sept. 11 levels and is reporting an increase in guests from out of state as well.

''We're starting to see honeymooners and people from the Midwest traveling again,'' said innkeeper Bill Bullard. ''It's really encouraging.''

In New York City, tourism officials are expecting hotel occupancy rates to be only 2 percent lower than last summer.

And in Orlando, Fla., theme parks expect robust attendance.

''The theme parks are doing better than last year and that says something after 9-11,'' said Bob Gault, president and CEO of Universal Orlando. ''Groups that don't want to fly aren't hesitating about jumping in a car and driving. We're seeing a lot of drive traffic so far.''

But some parts of the country are facing specific challenges to tourism.

In Arizona, officials are worried tourists will stay away because of a wildfire raging in the eastern part of the state.

''People are watching CNN and they think the entire state is in a standstill,'' said Clarinda Vail, co-owner of the hotel in Tusayan, a community on the road to the Grand Canyon's South Rim. ''We're 200 miles away from the fire, we're not even affected by the smoke.''

In Florida, officials are bracing for a drop in Latin visitors because of economic and political turmoil in South America. Of the estimated 3 million South Americans who visit the United States each year, 60 percent of them spend time in South Florida.

This year, Argentine visitors to the United States are expected to decrease by 21 percent, according to U.S. Department of Commerce projections.

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