By Doug Campbell
The nation lost almost 500,000 travel industry jobs between August 2001 and the end of 2003. Now, with the economy in recovery mode, so too is the U.S. tourism business. "People are venturing farther from home and taking more trips," says Cathy Keefe, spokeswoman for the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). "People are fairly confident about the money they have to spend on travel and more willing to take time off."
This news is of particular value to a couple of Fifth District locations — South Carolina and Washington, D.C. Those places ranked numbers 10 and 11, respectively, in TIA's "Summer 2005 Travelers' Wish List." South Carolina was named by 6 percent of travelers as their intended destination, with D.C. only a few decimal points behind. Leading all places was Florida at 34 percent.
The beaches are South Carolina's main summer draw; the six coastal counties ring up 85 percent of the summer's hotel revenues, according to The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina's tourism office says travel generates $7.3 billion annually, which is about 6 percent of its Gross State Product. The District of Columbia, of course, has history and patriotism going for it, to the tune of about $9 billion annually. The volume of leisure travel is related to the overall economy — and to broader trends in perceived transportation safety. After Sept. 11, 2001, Americans adjusted by increasingly limiting their trips to cars, with their ends often being the homes of friends and family.
Of note this vacation season are rising prices. After 2001, travel industry firms slashed prices to lure visitors. "You could find four-day cruises for $300. There were Ritz-Carlton rooms at Comfort Inn prices. It was incredible," Keefe says.
The only problem is that businesses aren't expected to do so well in getting people to pay up in the numbers they used to. Consider these numbers: The number of summer leisure trips take by Americans is supposed to rise 2.3 percent this year. But at the same time, U.S. travelers plan on spending 7 percent less — from $1,101 to $1,019 — on their longest summer trip, TIA says.
Americans will accomplish this neat feat of traveling more while spending less by simply economizing. Gone are the two-week, blowout vacations; in their place are day trips to Grandma's house, a long weekend spent camping, or booking a hotel room a good 30 minutes away from the big city.
"When you look at year-over-year leisure travel, it's never declined," Keefe says. "The way we travel has changed."