ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tourism growth in Orlando, the nation's most popular travel destination, has slowed to a trickle. The theme park haven is not alone.
Nationwide, tourism is expected to grow by only 1 percent this year. Experts blame less spending by both business and leisure travelers and the slowing economy.
''In the business travel market, the higher-ups are telling people to be a little more careful with their money. It's not the free spending that we've had in the past,'' said Cathy Keefe, a spokeswoman for the Travel Industry Association of America. ''In the leisure market, there's cost-cutting. People are staying with friends and relatives. They're driving instead of flying.''
Nationwide, most major tourism indicators were down for the first five months of the year, according to the association. Airplane load factors were down 1.7 percent and hotel and motel occupancy rates are down 2.2 percent.
Orlando, which saw a 10 percent increase in visitors in 1999, had 43.2 million visitors last year -- an increase of only 1.6 percent from the previous year, according to figures released this week by the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
That's the smallest increase since the bureau switched to its current data collection system in 1992, and the picture isn't expected to get any prettier in 2001.
''Due to the economic situation, we wouldn't expect that the hospitality industry wouldn't be affected at all,'' said Danielle Saba Courtenay, a vice president of the visitors bureau.
In Orlando, the biggest decline was seen in single-day visits, which dropped off by 11 percent. Unlike in the two previous years, when Disney and Universal opened new theme parks, there were no major expansions in Orlando in 2000. No new major attractions are planned this year, either.
Other tourist hotspots are noticing the economic slowdown.
Las Vegas' visitor attendance is flat for the first five months of this year, despite several new shows and attractions. Hotel and motel occupancy is down 1.7 percent when compared to the same time period as last year, although convention business remains strong.
In Los Angeles, hotel and motel occupancy rates are down 3.7 percent for the first five months of the year, the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau said.
In San Francisco, the occupancy rate is down 9.7 percent.
New Orleans, however, has seen its hotel and motel occupancy rate jump to 73 percent during the first four months of 2001, compared to 70 percent at the same time last year.
In June, overnight stays at national parks were down 1.2 percent from the previous year. Experts say the silver lining is that airlines and hotels have started slashing prices.
''For the consumer, it pays to check around,'' Keefe said. ''It's a consumer's market right now.''
On the Net:
Travel Industry Association: http://www.tia.org
Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau: http://orlandocvb.com
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