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travel-webRISMEDIA, March 20, 2009-(MCT)-Your household budget screams, “No, no, no,” but the alluring deals gently whisper, “Yes, yes, yes.” While the current economy has most Americans working harder than ever, the word ‘vacation’ has become a concept that to most is no longer imaginable. But the constant doom and gloom has forced many popular tourist attractions to go to extremes to get the world moving again.

Now may be the time for gutsy travelers, the ones who don’t know whether they’ll have jobs tomorrow, but can surrender to the temptation of bargains offered by airlines, hotels, cruise ships and amusement parks to escape reality and sit back and relax.

“There hasn’t been a time like this to book a really good deal in a long time,” said Katie Deines, spokeswoman for the online travel agency Expedia.

With the economy in the tank, the tourism industry wants you to travel, even when spending makes most people queasy.

Hotel rates are down 14% in vacation hot spots such as Orlando and 34% in Las Vegas, according to Expedia.

Popular tourist hot spot Walt Disney World in Orlando has gone as far as giving visitors three nights with free tickets if they buy a four-night package, while Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., has put together tourist packages that give you two days’ admission for the price of one.

And the deals keep coming.

Dow Jones reported that passenger traffic on U.S. airlines was down much more than expected in February, leading airlines such as Southwest to begin offering sales for summer travel. “The airlines are trying to get people off their seats, onto their computers, buying tickets,” said Rick Seaney, chief executive officer at FareCompare.com. “The problem is: Do they have the money to travel? Or the willpower?”

Sudeikis added that there are deals to be found on cruise ships, too. Some are offering credits of $500 or more for travelers to spend on cruise amenities such as spas or tours at various ports of call.

But Sudeikis does have a word of caution. The attractive prices are a moving target and can change from day to day. Some deals, she said, are good only for limited periods.

The wave of discounting comes from a distressed tourism industry trying to win over consumers rattled by the economy.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll revealed that nearly 60% of typical yearly vacationers will reduce their travel spending this year. “There’s kind of this overhang of pessimism,” said James Fisher, a consumer spending and marketing expert at St. Louis University.

Leisure trips fell 1.3% last year and are expected to decline 2.2% more this year, according to a study by consultants at IHS Global Insight and D.K. Shifflet & Associates. Overall travel spending is projected to be down 8.3% in 2009.

“It’s going to be a tough year,” said Jennifer Fuller, a principal at Global Insight. Fuller said she didn’t expect many Americans to spend extra money they receive from stimulus tax cuts on travel, and the tourism industry is working hard to trump the fear.

The overall cost of travel was down 6% in January compared with the same time last year, according to the Travel Industry Association of America’s travel price index. A lot of that decline was driven by a 40% drop in fuel prices on the index. Airfares were down about 1%.

Fuller warned that bargains would only go so far to help the travel industry survive.

© 2009, The Kansas City Star.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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