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(MCT)—Gas prices may be rising, but that hasn’t dampened Americans’ dreams to hit the open road.

About 25 percent of men and 33 percent of women say they have not driven across the country but “always wanted to,” according to a survey released last week by the travel website Expedia. And 41 percent of Americans and nearly half of men who were surveyed said they’ve already driven cross-country at least once in their lives.

The survey of 2,262 adults by Harris Interactive on behalf of Expedia went beyond Americans’ automotive bucket lists.

It confirmed what previous surveys and studies have found: Tough economic times have forced Americans to turn to cheaper vacation alternatives.

“We believe that Americans are proving to be resilient in a down economy, by driving instead of flying and taking more frequent, shorter trips,” says Joe Megibow, vice president and general manager of Expedia.

Travel statistics released by the U.S. Commerce Department show that overseas travel from the U.S. dropped 6 percent in 2010 from 2009. Fewer than 1 in 4 (23 percent) Americans are likely to travel internationally in the next year, according to the Expedia survey.

Meanwhile, travel to neighboring countries Mexico and Canada increased slightly during the same period, according to the federal agency.

Fitness-Themed Hotels to Open
Major hotel chains have long tried to appeal to health-conscious travelers by putting fruit and bran muffins in the breakfast buffet, handing out maps to nearby walking paths or offering access to a hotel gym, among other tactics.

InterContinental Hotels Group, one of the world’s largest hotel companies, is going a step further by investing at least $150 million to launch a chain of hotels specifically aimed at fitness-minded travelers. Among other things, the hotels plan to put exercise equipment in each room—including a coat rack that doubles as a pull-up bar—and offer hotel gyms with group exercise classes.

The new inns, dubbed Even hotels, will also serve “natural, fresh, fit and energizing meals,” including mini-smoothies in the morning, according to the company.

The group hopes to open 100 hotels in the next five years.

The new chain is designed to appeal to the 40 percent of the traveling public—or 17 million Americans—who say a healthy lifestyle is important to them, said Christian Hempell, vice president of new business development for InterContinental.

He said the hotels will appeal to travelers who want “a balanced lifestyle. They just want it to be part of their daily life.”

And how much will travelers pay to stay at an Even hotel?

Hempell declined to disclose rates but said they would be comparable to those at Courtyard or Hampton Inn hotels, whose rates range from $119 to almost $300, depending on the location and room amenities.

InterContinental plans to convert existing, independent hotels into Even hotels but won’t announce the locations until later this year.

Still, Hempell said he is sure the new chain will open several hotels in such fitness-minded cities as San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles.

Airline’s Crew to Learn to Whisper
If you have trouble sleeping on a plane, Virgin Atlantic may be the airline for you.

The British carrier announced last week that it has appointed its first “whispering coach” to teach crews on long-haul flights to speak in tones between 20 and 30 decibels to ensure that snoozing passengers go undisturbed on night-time flights.

The whispering coach is part of the airline’s campaign to promote its new Upper Class Dream Suites, high-priced lay-flat seats that the airline will roll out this spring on designated routes, including flights between New York and London.

Whispering classes will add an extra day to the training of Virgin Atlantic crew members.

“It’s incredibly important that all Virgin Atlantic cabin crew have their skills honed in order to provide the most comfortable experience possible for our passengers,” whispering coach Richard Fitzgerald says.

©2012 the Los Angeles Times
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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