- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Spring break travelers from college students to family vacationers have been pouring into tourist destinations in recent weeks, showing signs that the travel industry is returning to business as usual.
Officials at top U.S. tourist destinations say the robust spring attendance this early in the season is setting the tone for the upcoming months. Until now, many of the destinations were trying to recover from the aftershock of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"The picture is brightening with each passing day," said Rick Sylvain, a Walt Disney World spokesman. "Clearly a lot of Americans are getting back to traveling."
Attendance at the Florida resort has been "strong" from both spring break crowds and holiday travelers. The parking lots at three of the four Disney theme parks had to be closed yesterday because they were filled, Mr. Sylvain said.
"Each day is stronger than the day before," he said. "We're headed in the right direction."
Hotel occupancy in the Orlando area reached 76.4 percent for the week of March 17, compared with 79.6 percent a year ago.
"The gap has been closing," said Danielle Courtenay, vice president of public relations at Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc.
Occupancy was down to 40 percent in the weeks immediately after September 11.
"This is definitely a strong spring season," Miss Courtenay said.
Las Vegas had a surge in business beginning at the end of February.
"Nobody could deny that a rebound is in full swing," said Erika Brandvik, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. "It's been really busy."
Hotel occupany was close to 100 percent during some of the weekends in March, Ms. Brandvik said.
Some of the hotels in Las Vegas were reporting more advance bookings than in the months immediately after September 11, when travelers were taking advantage of last-minute deals. As a result of the advance bookings, hotels are raising their prices closer to pre-September 11 rates, she said.
"It seems the further we move away from the last quarter of 2001 the better we are doing," Ms. Brandvik said. "Right now, things are looking good … and all visible signs point to a strong spring."
In fact, the tourism industry is on the upswing in many places including Washington. Thousands of visitors have been pouring into the city for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, a two-week event timed to coincide with the blooming of more than 3,000 cherry trees along the Tidal Basin. The blossoms, with the festival's cultural and community events, annually attract more than 700,000 visitors.
The September 11 terrorist attacks have resulted in more people staying closer to home and traveling domestically rather than internationally. However, business at Orbitz, an online reservation system owned by several major airlines, has been busy booking tickets as travelers take advantage of discounted fares.
"Orbitz had a fairly good spring break," said Cornish Hitchcock, chairman of the Orbitz Consumer Advisory Board.
"It's encouraging that an increasing number of people have been and are willing to get on airplanes and take trips," he said.
The cruise industry also has had an upswing in business this season.
"There's a lot of family travel that goes on during spring break," says Else Daniels, owner of Vacations At Sea, a D.C. travel agency that specializes in cruises. "The cruise ships are full."
She said business started picking up in late December and became busy in January for spring vacation reservations. Now she is booking trips for the summer and fall.
"Life remains irregular for only so long, and then people want to go back to their usual patterns," she said.


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