Economy Affected Travel Decisions

May 16, 2003
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The war with Iraq has had little effect on the willingness of people to travel.

That sums up a recent survey that shows the economy to be playing the largest role in dampening travel expectations.

The quarterly survey, conducted in mid-April by the Travel Industry Association of America, pegged the “traveler sentiment index” at 95.7 for the second quarter, down slightly from the 97.1 in the first quarter.

The traveler sentiment index for the second quarter compares with an all-time high of 108.2 three years ago when the economy was strong.

The all-time low of 80.3 came during the fourth quarter of 2001 in the months following the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.

The latest index, which gauges consumers’ interest in leisure travel, found concerns regarding an uncertain economy and whether people had time to take a trip as the main factors affecting travelers’ sentiments.

Those attitudes persist despite a belief that the cost of traveling is quite favorable to consumers right now because of price discounts resulting from the war and the uncertainty in the months leading up to it.

In releasing its quarterly index this month, the Travel Industry Association reported several finds from different sources.

“Consumers feel that travel is very affordable right now; however, they continue to be concerned about having enough money to take a trip, most likely an indication of their uneasiness over the state of the economy,” the report stated.

Even so, the discounts that are available to the traveling public are apparently beginning to sink in with consumers.

Bookings at AAA travel agencies have begun to pick up in recent weeks.

The most recent weekly AAA Travel Barometer cites improved consumer confidence and discounts that are designed to spur travel as reasons for an up-tick in consumer interest.

The AAA Travel Barometer — based on samplings of activity at 13 auto clubs nationwide that account for half of the association’s 46 million members — has found increases in recent weeks in bookings for tour packages, hotels and cruises and car rental reservations.

“Americans clearly have resumed planning their vacations,” said Sandra Hughes, vice president of AAA Travel.

Nationally, the Travel Industry Association of America has forecast a 2.5 percent increase in travel volumes for 2003 and a 4.1 percent increase in travel spending.

In Michigan, the Michigan State University Tourism Center’s 2003 travel industry outlook forecasts a 2 percent increase in travel volumes this year but a 2 percent decline in travel spending.

That forecast comes after a 2002 travel season that saw a deep 10 percent decline in travel spending statewide, despite a 3.1 percent increase in travel volumes.

Last year saw travel spending in Michigan decrease for the second straight year, marking the first back-to-back declines since 1985.      

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