- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

Vacation hot spots just a car ride away are expected to make out big this summer.

The threat of more terrorist attacks doesn't mean Americans are giving up their summer vacations. But they are planning them closer to home. Towns such as Ocean City and Rehoboth and Dewey Beach, Del., are expecting to reap the benefits.

Nationally, AAA expects between 83 percent and 85 percent of travel this season to be done by car, about 4 percent more than usual.

"I think there are a lot of people who are hoping they can get past 9/11," said Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman. "People are anxious to get on with life as normal."

The season is already showing signs of strength.

Ocean City's advance hotel and motel reservations, especially for July and August, have increased from this time last year.

Susan Jones, director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, isn't surprised.

"People are taking vacations closer to home," she said.

Ocean City, which is about a three-hour drive from Washington, has more than 130 hotels and motels, with more than 10,000 rooms total.

Ocean City, one of Maryland's biggest tourist destinations, usually attracts about 8 million visitors annually 4 million during the summer. About 26 percent of summer visitors are from Maryland. Virginia visitors make up about 9.2 percent.

"Right now, our lifestyles have changed, and people are looking for drive-to destinations," Jim Mathias, mayor of Ocean City, said in March. "It's going to be a big summer."

The beaches in Delaware expect the same.

But Carol Everhart, president and chief executive of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, said she doesn't know whether the increase will be because more people are visiting beaches in recent years, or because they don't want to fly or want to stay closer to home as a result of September 11.

"Rentals are ahead of schedule from last year, and we had a very, very good year last year," Miss Everhart said. "We're sitting in a terrific spot."

This year, the chamber spent more on regional advertising, targeting areas outside Delaware, such as New York, Pennsylvania, the District, Maryland, Virginia and Ohio. She said New Yorkers have shown strong interest.

This weekend, the official start of the summer season, is the first "warm-weather holiday since 9/11," and it is the first time that travel projections are up since the attacks, Mr. Anderson said. Travel for holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas was down from years past.

The Outer Banks in North Carolina is expecting a continued increase in visitors, which it has been experiencing for as many as 20 years, said John Bone, president of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce.

"I think we'll have a real good year," he said.

Mr. Bone said the area, which has a strong family appeal, is a "comfortable driving distance" for many in the Washington area. The beachfront area is about four to five hours away.

Regionally, traffic is expected to increase 1 percent to 2 percent between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, "presuming there is no more terrorism in our region," Mr. Anderson said.

Despite tourism officials' optimism, the beaches still face uncertainties, such as the possibility of more terrorist attacks, which this year tops the list of concerns.

But traditional worries such as bad weather, shark attacks and the fluctuating economy could ruin the season. Late last summer, a shark killed a 10-year-old boy at Virginia Beach and, just days later, a man died after being attacked by a shark off the Outer Banks.

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