Road trips help rev up tourism industry


Thursday, July 4th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Deborah Dallinger's hassles as she navigated security checks on her recent European vacation persuaded her to stick closer to home this summer.

``It's one thing to spend 10 hours on a plane to France, but it's another to spend four hours at the airport,'' the 52-year-old Walnut Creek resident said. ``When I go on vacation, I just want it to be easy.''

Dallinger will spend her remaining vacation driving to visit friends in Santa Barbara and staying at her favorite bed and breakfast in Inverness. Her experience is like that of many Americans who are flocking to state parks, beaches and the mountains while doing more driving and less flying.

Although tourism across the country this summer is expected to continue its gradual recovery from the devastating impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, people are traveling differently.

``More people are driving, and people have basically doubled the amount they are willing to drive to avoid the hassle of airports,'' said Ed McWilliams of D.K. Shifflet & Assoc. Ltd., which has polled 2,400 frequent travelers nationwide every week or so since last October.

The survey found that people are willing to drive as much as eight hours to avoid the hassles and delays prompted by heightened security at airports. That's twice as long as they were willing to drive before Sept. 11.

Analysts say tourism should be close to last summer's level, although not all sectors will recover equally. Hotels will see an uneven recovery as travelers spend more time visiting family members and campgrounds.

``The recovery has been driven by leisure travelers,'' said Peter Yesawich, president of Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown, a marketing services firm. ``Business travel demand flatlined last November and has not recovered.''

Vermont tourism officials are expecting bookings an inn and lodges to be on par with last year, while campgrounds reservations are running ahead of previous levels, a reflection of the trend toward more family travel.

``Traditionally at the state parks, when the economy is down a little, people pick a less expensive way of vacation,'' Larry Simino, director of state parks, said.

People are also choosing to spend their time off with loved ones. ``Especially after last fall, people seem to be doing more family things,'' said Diane Konrady of the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing.

In California, campgrounds saw a 20 percent jump in reservations after Sept. 11, an indication that people who otherwise might have planned out-of-state trips had decided to stay close to home. Bed and breakfast inns in the state's wine country and other locales are also seeing an increase in guests.

In New York City, tourism officials are expecting hotel occupancy rates to be only 2 percent lower than last summer.

And in Orlando, Fla., theme parks expect robust attendance.

``The theme parks are doing better than last year and that says something after 9-11,'' said Bob Gault, president and CEO of Universal Orlando. ``Groups that don't want to fly aren't hesitating about jumping in a car and driving. We're seeing a lot of drive traffic so far.''

Some regions are facing more specific tourism challenges.

Arizona and Colorado officials have worried that tourists would stay away because of wildfires.

``People are watching CNN and they think the entire state is in a standstill,'' said Clarinda Vail, co-owner of the hotel in Tusayan, Ariz., a community on the road to the Grand Canyon's South Rim. ``We're 200 miles away from the fire, we're not even affected by the smoke.''