Experts Expect U.S. Summer Travel Season to Get Off to Hot Start

By Kevin Smith, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Calif.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jun. 1--Looking to travel this summer?

You won't be alone, because the Travel Industry Association of America predicts a 3.2- percent increase in leisure travel for the 2004 summer season.

According to the Washington, D.C-based organization's Summer 2004 Forecast, Americans will take more than 334 million "person-trips' during June, July and August.

"For the first time in years, the summer travel season will start off with a bang and we expect it to stay strong through August," said Suzanne Cook, the association's senior vice president of research.

Jack Kyser, senior vice president and chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said he figures Southern California has plenty to attract both locals and out-of-staters.

"There are a lot of new theme park attractions," he said. "You have the new Tower of Terror at Disneyland, and next year Disneyland will be celebrating their 50th anniversary. They are already starting to pull out all the stops.'

The company, he said, is bringing one of its cruise ships that normally is stationed at Walt Disney World in Florida to San Pedro.

"Looking forward toward the end of this year, Knotts Berry Farm will also be coming out with a new attraction," Kyser said. "And the economy will continue to look better in 2005.'

Cook has concerns, however -- concerns that include rising gas prices and higher inflation. The travel group is additionally seeing a "general unease among Americans' regarding the affordability of travel, she said, noting that travel prices have risen 7 percent since December.

And when it comes to gasoline price, no one is suffering more than Southern California motorists.

In recent weeks, fuel prices have escalated to the point where filling up at the pump has become pricey.

On Friday, a Union 76 station at Beverly and Pioneer boulevards in Whittier posted regular at $2.49 per gallon. A Shell station at Telegraph Road and Greenwood Avenue advertised the same price.

But that was not the worst of it, as prices nudged ever closer to the $3-per-gallon mark in other areas of the Southland. A gas station in Calabasas had regular for $2.79 per gallon and a Texaco in Los Angeles was selling regular at $2.69 per gallon.

Will that dissuade people from traveling this summer?

"Probably not much," Kyser said. "The population still wants to drive these big SUVs.'

In the first 4 1/2 months of 2004, the Auto Club's AAA Travel booked 76.5 percent more cruises, 54.9 percent more tours and 62.3 percent more hotel rooms than the same period in 2000, the last full year before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Auto Club owns 68 AAA Travel offices in Southern California.

"This growth in sales indicates that consumers are feeling more comfortable about traveling than at any other time in the post 9/11 period," said Diana Meinhold, vice president of travel products and services for the Auto Club.

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