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Americans Expected to Travel More This Summer

Tourism: While major Anaheim projects still won't be done, O.C. industry could have better season this year than last.

May 11, 2000|STEPHEN GREGORY and E. SCOTT RECKARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More Americans will travel this summer and take longer and more expensive trips than they did last year, travel experts said Wednesday.

Rising bookings and travel surveys indicate consumers remain bullish about the U.S. economy despite warnings of an impending slowdown.

Local tourism officials also expect perennial destination favorite Southern California to be a busier host this summer than in years past given both the boom-time wanderlust and the four-day Democratic National Convention, which is set to draw 35,000 to the region during the second week in August.

Operators of many local attractions and hotels are looking ahead to next year, when a new Disney theme park opens beside Disneyland and an expansion and remodeling of the Anaheim Convention Center is complete. The $2 billion in additions will bring millions of new visitors to Orange County.

The county's tourism business is holding up better than expected considering that the heavy construction in Anaheim has snarled traffic and that much-publicized ocean pollution has caused a spate of beach closures.

"The summer actually looks pretty good," said Elaine Cali, a spokeswoman for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. "The domestic business is up, and the thinking is it will be better this year than last year."

Industry observers are no longer worried about the slow start many attractions and hotels had when Americans opted to stay at home rather than travel to celebrate the arrival of the year 2000.

"Everything is set in motion. My hunch is it's going to be a very good summer," said Michael Collins, executive vice president for the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Every indicator shows people believe there is enough money in their wallets to make for a grand summer, and they're going to hit the road."

That apparently includes Southern Californians as well. Susan Dushane, an agent with Northridge-based Travel by Greta, said bookings for summertime travel are up as much as 20% this year over last.

"I had earlier inquiries and earlier bookings this year for summer than usual," Dushane said. "I think this year people really want to get away."

Most of her clients also appear to be willing to spend more money this year, Dushane said, as they opt for pricier vacations to Europe over comparatively less expensive trips to last year's top getaway, Hawaii.

Hawaii, in fact, didn't even make the list of top summer travel destinations for locals this year, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California's survey of its members. Las Vegas, New York and Washington, D.C., took top domestic honors, while Acapulco, London and Paris garnered most attention for travel abroad.

Overall, summer travel bookings among members are up 10%, the club said.

Outlook Good Despite Gas Prices, Air Fares

Among travelers nationwide, California ranked second behind Florida as the foremost destination, according to a report released Wednesday by the Travel Industry Assn. of America.

In a nationwide survey of 1,300 travelers conducted in April, the organization also found that 86%--up about 4 percentage points over last year--plan to take at least one trip of 50 or more miles from their homes between June and August. Their longest trips, most respondents said, would span at least 10 nights, up from 8.5 nights last summer, and they expect to spend on average $965, compared with $956 last year.

In its own report released Wednesday, the Automobile Assn. of America found that 3% more Americans, or 34.4 million in all, planned to kick off their summer travel itineraries with a trip of 100 miles or more over Memorial Day weekend.

AAA found that 3% more travelers, or 28.4 million total, will opt for a time-honored road trip this Memorial Day even though prices at the pump on average are predicted to be 30 cents a gallon higher than last year.

Summer auto travel is projected to increase 5% among members this year over last, the Auto Club of Southern California said.

Generally higher air fares also don't seem to be putting a crimp in summer travel plans. Passenger volume at both Los Angeles International Airport and John Wayne Airport is up this year over last and is expected to continue its ascent during the summer.

"I think we'll have a pretty busy summer this year with traffic rising about 3% to 4%," LAX spokesman Tom Winfrey said.

Although he wouldn't give specific figures, United Airlines spokesman Matt Triaca said the busiest air carrier at LAX is also projecting higher passenger loads into and out of its newest hub. Dale Morris, a spokesman for American Airlines, which operates the most flights in and out of Orange County, predicted a similar increase at John Wayne.

O.C. Amusement Parks Are Bullish

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