Experts Predict Billions of Dollars in Increased Travel During 2004; Domestic Travel Up by $33 Billion in 2004, Experts Tell Travel Symposium

Business Editors/Travel Writers

ORLANDO, Fla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 19, 2004--A strong surge in consumer travel and travel planning may be the come-back the industry has waited three years for, with leading national travel experts predicting a healthy six percent growth in travel this year over last.

Experts speaking at a travel and tourism industry symposium held Thursday at Universal Orlando forecast 2004 total travel spending at $585 billion -- up $33 billion from 2003 -- and they spoke of the strongest growth in years in everything from hotel bookings to consumer spending on travel packages.

"We're seeing strong world-wide demand for our theme park and resort offerings," said Tom Williams, Universal Parks & Resorts Chairman. "In particular, attendance at our domestic parks is up 15 percent over last year. We're seeing growth in all our key markets and all indications lead to a strong summer. In fact, we're optimistic about a strong year overall."

Travel experts from a variety of national travel organizations including AAA,, Loews Hotels, Song airline, Universal Orlando and the Orlando Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau told industry media Thursday that bookings and travel planning indicators were increasing at significant levels -- signaling a very strong year for the industry.

"Our (travel) agents cite the improved economy and a greater confidence in travel security as top motivators for increased travel," said Mark Brown, AAA Travel executive vice president. Brown said his organization's travel agency sales were up by 21 percent for the first quarter of 2004 and that more than 90 percent of AAA travel agencies expect summer bookings to increase by nearly 20 percent.

Addressing questions about the impact of rising gas prices, Brown said, "In terms of dollars and cents, a family's longest drive vacation this summer will average just under 800 miles round trip, so a rise of 50 cents per gallon translates into about $20 more on gas for their big drive vacation (based on an average full economy of 20 miles per gallon)."

The Travel Industry Association of America -- which forecast the six percent increase in 2004 travel -- said leisure travel will grow by 2.4 percent this year compared with less than two percent last year. cited strong growth in hotel bookings this year, with bookings in major cities at their highest level in years. The Orlando Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau predicted a more than 7 percent increase in travel to the Central Florida area -- and Song Airlines cited a more than 9 percent increase in passenger traffic between February 2002 and February 2003.

The travel symposium was hosted by Universal Orlando as it opened its newest theme park attraction, Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride, at its Universal Studios theme park.

The Universal Orlando resort destination ( ) includes two dramatically distinct and adjacent theme parks, the Universal Studios motion picture and television theme park and Islands of Adventure, Orlando's next generation theme park. Universal Orlando also includes CityWalk, a 30-acre dining, shopping, club and live-entertainment venue as well as premier on-site Loews hotels and world-class film and television production facilities.

NBC Universal is one of the world's leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news and information to a global audience. Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment, NBC Universal owns and operates the No.1 television network, the fastest-growing Spanish-language network, a valuable portfolio of news and entertainment networks, a premier motion picture company, significant television production operations, a leading television stations group, and world-renowned theme parks. NBC Universal is 80%-owned by General Electric, with 20% controlled by Vivendi Universal.

Fast Facts

Top travel experts gathered at Universal Orlando May 19, 2004 to discuss the state of America's travel and tourism industry and strategize on sustaining -- and increasing -- the recent upswing in tourism numbers. Senior executives from the American Automobile Association (AAA),, Loews Hotels, Universal Orlando, Song Airlines, Orlando's Convention and Visitor Bureau and TIA discussed trends from their respective segments and forecasts for upcoming 2005 travel periods to an audience of national and international travel-industry news media.

Significant industry segment findings reported by the panelists included:

-- TIA's Dr. Suzanne Cook said leisure travel volume will grow 3.4 percent this year to 961 million person-trips, up from a less than 2 percent growth in 2003. It will increase once again in 2005 by nearly 2 percent to 978 million person-trips. Increasing for the first time since 1999, U.S. residents are forecasted to take nearly 145 million business person-trips in 2004, an improvement of 4.6 percent from 2003. In 2005, business travel will increase 3.5 percent to nearly 150 million person-trips.
-- Orlando Convention and Visitor Bureau President Bill Peeper said combined domestic and international arrivals at the nation's leading family travel destination are expected to increase 7.7 percent in 2004 to 48.7 million visitors, 4.9 percent in 2005 to 51.1 million visitors and another 5.3 percent to 53.9 million visitors in 2006. International visitation is expected to increase 6.7 percent in 2004 to 2.4 million visitors, 7 percent in 2005 to 2.6 million visitors and 6.5 percent in 2006 to 2.7 million visitors.
-- Universal Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Williams reported that the group is experiencing exceptional growth in 2004 with a 15% increase in attendance at its domestic parks, Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal Studios Japan is seeing an astounding 50% increase in revenues.
-- AAA Travel Executive Vice President Mark Brown said AAA's travel agency sales were up 21 percent for the first quarter of 2004 and its travel agents expect continued strong sales for the summer travel season. AAA also released results from its annual summer travel survey of its travel agency managers. Overall, 94 percent of AAA's travel agencies expect summer travel bookings to increase this year by an average of 19.5 percent. International vacation sales will increase an average of 17.6 percent; cruise sales are expected to rise by 23.4 percent.
-- Vice President of Lodging Michael Reichartz predicted online travel planning and purchasing will grow at 25% for the next four years. "Sixty three percent of leisure travelers and 69% of business travelers now use the Internet to plan some aspect of travel. In a nutshell there are tens of millions of online travelers spending tens of billions of dollars...the fact of the matter is, online travel is appealing -- it provides choice, flexibility and value for customers. He added that hotel occupancy rates in the nation's major destination cities are at their highest levels in years...New York City up nearly 10% in April over last year at 79.6% and Orlando at 82%...higher than any time since 2000.
-- Song Airlines' John Selvaggio, President, revealed that the airline is seeing a 9.3% increase in passenger traffic from February '02 to February '03. Their research indicates that 90% of leisure travel decisions are made by the female in the household.


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