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Vacationers Have Gas, Cash--Will Travel

Tourism: Summer will bustle, industry experts predict, as lower prices at the pump fuel more trips.


Encouraged by lower gasoline prices and a healthy economy, more vacationers will hit the road this summer spending more money than ever, according to a national survey by the Travel Industry Assn. of America and the American Automobile Assn.

These predictions were echoed by local travel industry boosters who look forward to a bustling summer in Southern California.

Expect to see more college-age adults and fewer families traveling the country from June through August, the TIA and AAA said in their annual forecast, which is to be released today. California remains the second-favorite destination among those surveyed. Florida is still No. 1.

"What we are seeing is the emergence of a younger, cost-conscious traveler who really loves nature and outdoor activities," said William S. Norman, president of the Travel Industry Assn. "Many of these young people will be spending less, on average, than older travelers, but they are more likely to be traveling in groups."

The summer season is crucial to the $467-billion travel industry, and this summer travel is expected to climb about 2%, the TIA and AAA said.

That rate of growth is considered modest by the travel organizations, but the 230 million "person trips" of 100 miles or more from home represent the best summer volume since the groups began publishing their summer "Travelometer" in 1993. The survey is a representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adults.

Travelers within the U.S. plan to spend a record $1,112 per person on their longest trip--about eight days--this summer, up 3% from last summer.

The Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau doesn't make guesses about how many visitors are likely to hit the Southland, but indications are "that it's going to be very good," said spokeswoman Carol Martinez.

Orange County also is "looking forward to another great summer season for tourism," said Elaine Cali, spokeswoman for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. "Business looks to be strong" at area hotels, she said.

Southern California's theme parks are generating excitement with new attractions: Disneyland will unveil its Light Magic Parade this month; Knott's Berry Farm has its new Windjammer roller coaster; Six Flags Magic Mountain is drawing crowds to its Superman the Escape roller coaster, which is able to reach 100 mph; and Universal Studios Hollywood is still reaping the benefits of last year's Jurassic Park ride as well as this year's Totally Nickelodeon show.

Nationwide, last summer's travel volume fell short of expectations, declining 1% to 225 million person trips, said TIA spokesman Dexter Koehl. The organization's statisticians attribute the stagnation to fear of last summer's high gasoline prices--which actually added only a few dollars to the cost of most trips--and less traveling by families than expected, he said.

This summer, gasoline prices are expected to be lower, said AAA spokeswoman Jill Mross. A gallon of self-serve unleaded gasoline will sell for about $1.25, down from the $1.307 motorists were paying last year as Memorial Day approached.

Food and lodging costs are up 3% this year, bringing the daily travel costs for a family of four to about $199, not including air fare, the AAA said.

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