- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

If last year was the year of the staycation, 2009 - as the economy continues its free fall - might just become known as the year of the “naycation.” “Nay” as in no vacation - not even day trips or outings to local attractions and restaurants.

That’s what travel blogger Chris Elliott (www.elliott.org), who coined the term, sees on the horizon.

“I hear a lot of people saying ‘I am not going anywhere,’ ” says Mr. Elliott, who also writes a travel column for msn.com and serves as a readers ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler.

“Another indication that things are not going well is the obscene number of cruise deals out there right now,” Mr. Elliott says.

That’s the angle the travel industry touts: See 2009 not as the year of the naycation - despite all the economic hardships - but as a year of opportunity.

Offers Doug Bower, vice president for travel and financial services at AAA: “There are unprecedented values out there.” He says cruise lines and other travel providers are throwing in freebies, such as free upgrades, to attract consumers. “They’re offering more of a deluxe experience.”

Says Karen Loftus, writer at Travelmole(www.travel mole.com) - the world’s largest online community for the travel and tourism industry: “Luxury is on sale this year. My suggestion is ‘take advantage’ if you have the money. … Think outside the box.”

Like trips to Europe, where a strong dollar reigns.

“I think London will become a destination again. For years it was out of reach,” Ms. Loftus says.

Deals, deal, deals, Mr. Elliott says. They do exist, but be discerning, he cautions.

“A lot of deals out there aren’t really deals. They’re just clever manipulations of numbers,” he says.

Read the fine print, he cautions. For example, if a cruise line says $30 a day, look at the cost of add-ons such as baby-sitting, port fees and beverages. The $30-a-day base fare easily can balloon into $120, he says.

While touting luxury for less, travel industry representatives also acknowledge that all is not rosy.

Ms. Loftus says, “Things will get worse before they get better.”

The International Air Transport Association, an industry trade group of 230 airlines, for example, calls 2009 “the most challenging revenue environment for 50 years.”

Mr. Bower concedes that even people who can afford to travel might not because of overall low consumer confidence, which was at an all-time low in late January.

“We see a lot of interest among consumers, and the fact that they are engaged is a positive,” Mr. Bower says. “They’re just not opening their pocketbooks.”

He expects demand in the travel sector to be down by at least 10 percent this year.

However, Mr. Bower and others say it’s too early to tell how things will shake out. Spring break will be a good yardstick, as will Memorial Day. If numbers are down then, Mr. Elliott might just be right about 2009 being the year of the naycation.

Mr. Bower and others are waiting to see - and that wait is a little longer this year as presumptive travelers are making their decisions late in the game because they can.

“They have a great sense of control this year,” Mr. Bower says.

In other words, consumers know demand is down and are not rushing to book several months out as they were forced to do in years past.

In terms of domestic travel trends, he expects that - if fuel prices remain low - the road trip will be back on the vacation map this year, particularly in the low-to-middle-income travel market.

However, gauging the general “vacation psychology,” Mr. Elliott says he doubts even that will happen.

“Even people with money are saying ‘Is it the prudent thing to do?’ ” he says. “There is a lot uncertainty about the future out there, and I expect people will sit this one out.”

He compares this time to another naycation year, the year following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That time, the naycation psychology wasn’t so much about money. It was about fear.

“People held off on European vacations because they feared anti-American sentiments,” Mr. Elliott says. “This time they’re holding off because they fear an uncertain future.”

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