Happy days approach for travel industry


MEMORIAL DAY signifies the traditional kickoff of summer vacations, and, with a booming economy, this holiday's travel is expected to set a record -- with 32.1 million Americans going at least 100 miles from home -- and lead into a robust season for the travel and hospitality industries.

More Americans will be traveling with their children, and there will be a big jump in the number of vacationers going fishing, according to the Travel Industry Association of America and AAA. This summer, 25 percent of Americans will be attending a family reunion.

The lodging industry, a $75.4 billion-a-year business in the United States, is expected to thrive, with a recent survey of Americans showing that travelers expect to spend an average of eight days away from home on their longest summer vacations.

Tourism, a $473 billion industry in America, is worth about $6 billion to the state of Maryland, about $1 billion to Baltimore.

What trends are expected in travel and tourism this summer? What key factors contribute to those trends? How do the expectations for this summer compare with past seasons?

Sharon Perry

AAA manager of public affairs, Towson office

I see a lot of family trips, taking long vacations, spending more money.

A recent survey of 1,500 people in the United States [conducted by AAA and the Travel Industry Association of America] predicted a 3 percent increase in travel for June, July and August for 1998 vs. 1997. That's 251 million trips, up from 244 million last summer.

We feel the reason is that interest rates are low and unemployment is low.

People feel more comfortable in using discretionary money toward vacation. People feel more relaxed about taking nice, family vacations.

Gas prices are also low. Gas prices for May this year in Maryland are about 12 cents lower than last year. The average is $1.09 per gallon for regular self-serve.

Vacation by air will grow 4 percent this summer. Travel by automobile will increase by 3 percent. Overall, you're going to see a bigger increase in airplane travel than auto travel.

It says a lot about the economy when you consider the average price of airfare.

Donna Abbott

Spokeswoman, Ocean City

We're very optimistic. Last summer was fantastic. We're looking for this summer to be even better.

Early reservations are looking promising, according to the word I'm getting from hotels up and down the beach.

Now, boom, Memorial Day is here and the weather is heating up and that brings people to the beach.

Last summer we had more than 4 million visitors to Ocean City between Memorial Day and Labor Day. We have more than 8 million annually. We're seeing strong shoulder season weekends due to golf plus special events we run in spring and fall, along with our expanded convention center bringing a lot of people into town.

Our primary draw for the summer season is Baltimore, Washington and Pennsylvania.

We're also seeing more travelers coming in from New York and New England. We've been doing more advertising in those markets. We're also seeing some Ohio traffic.

About a year ago, we established a Web page. We're getting a lot of inquiries that way -- 60 requests a day coming from all over, a lot from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey and as far away as Ireland, Germany and Spain.

We're still primarily a family resort for people who've been coming here for years and years, but with the Web, we're getting more diverse, it expands our access to vacationing families.

Diane Wolfe

Executive director of tourism promotion, Garrett County Chamber of Commerce

We expect a great summer.

People come for the cool mountain air. The temperature difference between Baltimore and Washington and here can be as much as 20 degrees. Our average summer temperature is 65.9 degrees.

Even in August, when it's hot in other locations, it's cooler here with no humidity like you would find in the low-lying areas. People come here to cool off.

It's not crowded. There's not a lot of traffic. We have over 80,000 acres of state parks.

We've tried some new ads, including one with the State of Maryland Tourism Department in the May/June issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. We're also doing a brand-new regional ad for the AAA travel magazine, Car and Travel, for the July/August issue.

We expect to see some good results from that. We just anticipate, with more ads like that, it's going to be a good year.

The area receives at least 400,000 visitors a year and 50,000 to 75,000 during the three-day Autumn Glory festival alone. Summer is the biggest season, but we're a four-season vacation spot.

Carroll R. Armstrong

President of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association

This summer is going to to be gangbusters for us. One of the things that's going to help us is the opening of the ESPN Zone. It's the first of its kind. The indications are there's going to be a major splash when they come to the market here. I'm hoping we will get national and international exposure from this.

The projections in terms of conventions are good, too. The economy is strong, and travel is up. The predictions are that there will be 260 million trips this summer nationally.

We're looking forward to getting our share of those. We hope that, because of the consistency with which we've been in the marketplace this year, that will impact summer visitations. We're hoping to end the year with 400,000 more visitors than we had last year.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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