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Vacationers are spending more time at destination


Nine years ago, responding to the American trend to take shorter and more frequent vacations, Carnival Cruise Lines offered its first three- and four-day cruises. Today, almost half the passengers booking time on one of the line's 10 ships opt for the mini cruises rather than the seven- or 14-day versions.

"Ninety-two percent of all vacations are seven days or less," says Bob Dickenson, president of Carnival Cruise Lines, quoting statistics from his company's research.

But another survey just released by the Automobile Association of America and the Travel Industry Association shows that while that trend persists, there's a curve in it for those who cruise by car on terra firma.

The survey reports that when Americans take their longest vacation this summer, they will stay an average of 7.9 nights. Last year, the average was 7.5 nights. "A half day is a significant increase," says Bill Jackman, director of public relations for AAA's national office in Washington.

He attributes the increase in length of stay to several factors. "Consumers seem to be more optimistic. There is continued strong employment and low inflation, and the economy is performing well," says Mr. Jackman.

Another reason could be a product of the times, too. People want more value from their vacations, be it economic or emotional. If people drive to their holiday destination, they spend more time getting there and back than if they fly. Consequently, they stretch their time away to maximize the rejuvenating time spent at a vacation spot.

And, he notes that people seem to be just a bit more relaxed regarding their job security -- at least in his own locale. He feels some people took shorter vacations for the past few years because of the fear-laden climate that downsizing created. "They were afraid to spend too much time away from their jobs. They were afraid they wouldn't be there when they got back."

Farther away, longer stay

Natalie Intrater -- a travel agent for 23 years, the owner of Discovery Travel in Chevy Chase and a board member for the American Society of Travel Agents -- also has noticed a slight change in length of stays in at least one segment of the agent-booked travel market. "Europe is still the most popular international vacation spot, but more distant places are becoming more attractive as vacation destinations," she says. "If you travel from the East Coast to the Orient, you must take a longer block of time. It's literally halfway around the world and getting there takes at least two days. It doesn't make sense to go for a week."

Ms. Intrater says retirees are the travelers with the most time to spend away. But even that obvious bit of information has a twist to it these days. "More people are retiring earlier," she says. That fTC means more people are in the long-vacation travel market longer. However, she says, some travelers do go to Europe for just a long weekend or for a week -- which fits into the predominant travel/vacation pattern. And more people are booking short winter getaways through her agency than ever before.

The AAA/TIA survey showed that the shorter, more-frequent vacation is still thriving. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they were planning multiple vacations this summer, compared to 52 percent who planned multiple vacations last year.

Mr. Dickenson says Carnival Cruise Lines is adding a ship to its three- and four-day service in July as well as another seven-day ++ ship. "Fourteen-day cruises are the smallest part of our business."

Ms. Intrater says the slight burp in the frequent and quick getaway trend doesn't really surprise her. "It had to level off," she says. "People can't go away for any fewer days."


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