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Expecting a burst of tourism

With the Fourth falling on a Friday, throngs are predicted on roads and at national parks.

June 29, 2003|Jane Engle | Times Staff Writer

Planning to get out of town for the Fourth of July? You'd better hit the road early because this holiday weekend will draw record crowds, AAA says.

More than 37 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home for the Fourth, the most for this holiday in at least nine years, according to a survey of 1,300 adults that the Travel Industry Assn. does annually for AAA. More of us will travel by car and fewer by plane than last year, the survey showed.

Experts say more celebrators are forsaking the backyard barbecue for an out-of-town adventure because the holiday falls on a Friday. But there is also pent-up demand following the end of the Iraq war, says Cathy Keefe, TIA spokeswoman.

Despite a slow start, which many attribute to travelers' tendency to book late, this will be a record year for summer travel, up 2.5% from last year, the TIA says.

Our favorite destinations are domestic. More than half of Internet-savvy leisure travelers said they were less likely to take a foreign trip this summer than last, according to a survey this month by Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, an Orlando, Fla.-based marketing services firm. Top destinations were Florida, California and New York, in that order, it found.

The bad news for travelers is that airfares have increased and parks are getting crowded.

The average U.S. fare booked by Internet travel seller Orbitz (www.orbitz.com) was up 17.5% for the week ended June 22 this year versus last, says Geoff Silvers, director of marketing. The average fare to Las Vegas was up even more, nearly 30%, he says. That's the result of increased demand for fewer seats because of airline cutbacks, he says.

For late-booking Fourth of July fliers, a good strategy is to leave Friday and return Monday or Tuesday, he says, because most people are flying out Wednesday or Thursday and returning Sunday.

As in past years, campsites at California's state parks are "pretty well booked up" for the summer, says Jim Luscutoff, manager of the concessions and reservations division. As of last week, a handful of parks had spaces available for all three nights of the holiday weekend, and 22 had spaces for one or two nights that weekend. Most were in the north and inland. For updates, visit www.parks.ca.gov. (Click on "Reservations and Fees.")

At Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park, a few rooms remained, as of the Travel section's deadline Tuesday, for the Fourth of July at the off-rim Yavapai Lodge, and Yellowstone National Park also had some rooms, says Judi Lages, vice president of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the concessionaire.

Lodges are "pretty much sold out" for the summer at the Grand Canyon's North Rim and at Utah's Bryce and Zion national parks, she says, although Yavapai Lodge has rooms most nights and Yellowstone lodges have fairly good space in the last two weeks of August.

As the summer wears on and prices increase and spaces disappear, any hesitation to make travel plans seems ill-advised, experts say.

"The consumers who waited are really suffering," Orbitz's Silvers says.

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