Travel down from last year, but improving | ParkRecord.com

Travel down from last year, but improving

by Andrew Kirk, OF THE RECORD STAFF

The national travel and leisure industry has adjusted to the "new normal," said experts at a Mountain Travel Symposium "webinar" on Feb. 17.

"It’s not as bad as last year. It’s not great but things clearly look like we’re in a stabilizing mode moving forward," said Carl Ribaudo from the Lake Tahoe area with Strategic Marketing Group.

Media covering tourism has recently reported that traveler confidence is rising. A survey conducted by the symposium revealed that 41 percent of respondents say their business is below what it was this time last year, but over 64 percent believe they’re meeting or exceeding expectations for this point in the season.

About 78 percent believe the season will end at the same or better levels than last year and almost half expect the economy to improve in 2010.

Greg Dunn from Florida with Ypartnership said a study he did with the U.S. Travel Association for Travelhorizons revealed consumers to still be pessimistic, waiting for improvement and well aware "everything is on sale."

The late summer/early fall of 2008 was the low point for the Overall Traveler Sentiment Index because of record-high fuel prices, he said. Perceived affordability of travel is good, but interest in travel has been slowly declining since the recession-high point last July because of smaller family and corporate budgets.

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Only 56 percent of survey respondents said they plan to take a trip over 50 miles in the next six months compared to 63 percent in February 2009. About 20 percent say they plan on taking fewer trips this year. Why? Forty-three percent said "household budget concerns."

Despite all the deals, one-third of respondents said they won’t travel because it’s too expensive, Dunn said.

The segment of the industry expected to be hardest hit in 2010 is business travel, he said. Only 13 percent of those polled said they plan to take a business trip this year. 20 percent said they plan to take fewer trips. Most respondents say their company can’t afford it, is restricting it or there’s simply less demand for their business.

Ribaudo said some of these trends may indicate a permanent change in the market. People’s spending habits and perception of value may not return to pre-recession levels. Demand for luxury goods and services may never be the same again.

"Is it the end of Cuban cigars?" he said.

The good news for Park City is Dunn believes vacation rentals may grow in popularity as travelers seek "enhanced value in alternative accommodations."

Companies locally agree business travel has been off lately.

Tom Klein, spokesperson for the Utah Business Travel Association said many travel departments were cut last year and jobs in the profession have been slow in returning. Ironically, that has translated into increased membership as people in the profession seek the association’s educational offerings for personal development.

Stephanie Nitsch, spokesperson for the Park City Chamber/Bureau said their office’s meetings and convention sales were down significantly in 2009. Leads and queries have been up in 2010 and group business is returning. Trade association meeting business has been coming back faster than corporate business, she said.

The most recent report from the Mountain Travel Research Program (MTRiP) said at "halftime" for the ski season many resort towns are reporting numbers slightly behind last year and occupancy down one percent for the first half of the winter. The good news is reservations for the next six months are up almost 10 percent, it said.