- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2003

American travelers have no intention of curling up on the couch this spring and summer.
Despite the war in Iraq and a struggling economy, Americans will be hitting the road in the coming weeks.
"Americans are still traveling, and they will travel at home," said Betsy O'Rourke, senior vice president for marketing of the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). "That's good news for our economy."
About 81 percent of travelers say they will take at least one leisure or vacation trip this spring and summer, according to TIA's War Impact Survey, conducted March 20-25. Nearly half of those people haven't started planning their trip and probably will wait until the last minute.
The bad news is business and air travel continue to decline, while many Americans have no plans of traveling overseas, Ms. O'Rourke said.
To combat the lack of air travel, deals are continuing to pop up. She said many are available for longer periods than usual. Summer deals typically end in the middle of June, but consumers this year will be able to take advantage of some cheaper prices through the end of the summer.
For instance, CheapTickets.com is offering "super Web fares" on cruises, airfares and top spring destinations between May 1 and Aug. 30. Bookings for deals such as a $207 round-trip ticket from New York to Las Vegas have to be made by April 29.
Virgin Atlantic Airways is offering an online deal ending today in which a companion traveler can fly to London from Washington, New York, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles or San Francisco for $1. The reservations have to be made through virginatlantic.com/ally for travel between now and June 18.
"This is a compelling $1 online companion offer to truly stimulate travel to Britain," said John Riordan, Virgin Atlantic vice president for marketing for North America. "Virgin Atlantic believes that this offer will encourage everyone to start dusting off their European vacation plans."
However, 71 percent of Americans are not interested in traveling overseas, according to the survey. About 31 percent of them say that decision is a direct outcome of the sluggish economy and the war in Iraq.
The new survey confirms recent leisure-travel trends, as consumers say they are more interested in travel by car, recreational vehicles or motorcoach, staying within the United States and visiting small towns and rural areas.
The trend of people staying closer to home continues to be good news for regional destinations like Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center, a four-season mountain resort in West Virginia that offers skiing, golf, hiking and biking.
Canaan Valley, about 3 hours from Washington, is "uniquely positioned" to be a driving destination for last-minute vacationers, said spokesman Bryan Brown.
The survey also says the war and weakened economy have sharply cut interest in visiting places that typically draw large crowds and in traveling to major cities.
Nonetheless, for Washington, it will be a wait-and-see season, but signs are positive. In March, the city's hotel occupancy outpaced the national average. The District hosted the World Figure Skating Championships from March 23 to March 30 and the Cherry Blossom Festival from March 22 to April 7.
"All things considered, we're faring pretty well," said Victoria Isley, vice president of marketing and communications at the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corp. "People are continuing to travel to our city."
At the Smithsonian Institution, museum visitation is down about 4 percent for the year, compared with the first three months of 2002. The Smithsonian's visitation numbers usually follow the overall trends of the city's overall visitation numbers, said Smithsonian spokeswoman Mary Combs. In January through March 2002, visitation dropped 21 percent compared with the number for the same time the year before.
"We hope a lot more people in this area will perk up and [come to the city]," she said.
The war, which began March 19, has had less of an effect on travel plans than the economy, TIA says. Despite cheap air-fare deals and travel packages, Americans say the "uncertainty of income" is keeping them from making big plans, Ms. O'Rourke said.
Nearly half of those expecting to take a trip in the coming months have not started to make their plans.
"We noticed that groups and leisure [travelers] are waiting until the last minute," Mr. Brown said. "They just want to see what's going to happen with the economy or with the war."

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