Looking Ahead: Specialty Travel Index Reports
by Risa R. Weinreb
In the course of a few minutes, the American way of life changed on September 11. Under attack on our own soil, our feeling of unbounded freedom became confined by cautious uncertainty. Things we once took for granted--flying, even opening our own mail in safety--now make us think twice.
Yet, despite the new challenges, the courage of Americans has prevailed. We continue to build. We continue to live with vigor. And we continue to explore...
... Because among the many freedoms we refuse to sacrifice is our freedom to travel, to reach out and connect with other cultures around the globe. In the weeks after 9-11, the experience of travel has changed, but is still embraced by Americans--families and college students, single travelers and seniors.
Americans are still traveling--and booking vacations around the globe. Those are some of the positive travel trends reported in a recent survey of leading tour operators and travel industry experts conducted by Specialty Travel Index/Specialtytravel.com (STI). The research found:
•Few trip cancellations.
•An increased interest in North American travel.
•Continued strength in family travel.
•Unprecedented airline and airport security.
"Most travelers who have already booked vacations are proceeding with their vacation plans, although some people are postponing them," says C. Steen Hansen, co-publisher of STI. "Meanwhile, people continue to consistently use Specialty Travel Index, its tour operators, and travel agents to book vacations for the upcoming seasons."
Here's a wrap-up of what some tour operators and travel researchers are reporting:
Flying is Safer Than Ever
Realistically, we know the statistics. Flying is safer than driving to work... safer than going on a picnic and risking getting struck by lightning. But some people we've talked with are still hesitant about getting on an airplane again. Perhaps some facts about enhanced airline and airport security will help calm trepidation.
To date, the major airlines have reinforced the cockpit doors on nearly 50 percent of their fleets, with 100% completion expected shortly. The FBI is providing airlines with information to screen passenger lists and complete background checks on employees. New equipment is being used to detect dangerous materials in baggage. National Guard troops are helping protect America's 420 commercial airports, and the Federal Air Marshall program has been expanded.
And--as everybody knows who has removed nail scissors and eyelash curlers from their carry-on bags--screenings have been increased at airport check-points. Citing these enhanced measures, Jane F. Garvey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, stated that there is "unwavering resolve to make our nation¡¦s aviation system safe and secure."
Few Trip Cancellations
Nearly 70% of all travelers who had made travel plans before the attacks have not changed their travel plans, according to a Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) survey conducted shortly after September 11. Additionally, over 80% of travelers recently polled by Conde Nast Traveler are still willing to fly internationally. At the Specialtytravel.com website, the number of visitors per day dipped by nearly 45% in the week following the assaults, but quickly rebounded to near normal in the weeks that followed.
"The majority of our clients are still traveling," confirms Bob Ellsasser, president of Country Walkers, which offers worldwide walking and snowshoeing tours [800-464-9255; www.countrywalkers.com]. "We have guests traveling throughout Europe, plus destinations such as Nepal, Bhutan, and Morocco. Are people concerned? Yes, they are. Have we been able to calm and satisfy those concerns? In almost all cases, yes."
Increased Travel in North America
While leisure travel remains strong, many adventurers are nonetheless focusing on domestic destinations as the global picture continues to fluctuate.
"We're feeling very positive that people will look closer to home and revisit America," says Lisa Bishop, director of sales and marketing for Grand Teton Lodge Company, which handles Jackson Lake Lodge, Jenny Lake Lodge, Colter Bay Village, and Snake River Lodge & Spa [800-628-9988; www.gtlc.com]. "We think the drive market will be major," she adds.
The desire of some Americans to stay closer to home has prompted cycling and walking operator Backroads to add more departures for its California Wine Country trips for Fall/Winter 2001/2002 [800-GO-ACTIVE; www.backroads.com]. Additionally, several new itineraries for 2002 lie within easy driving distance of major metropolitan areas, including a walking/biking exploration of Georgia's Low Country islands; and a walk/bike/kayak trip through Washington's San Juans.
Increased Family Travel
"In these unprecedented, unstable times, parents are trying to retain a sense of normalcy for their kids, as much as possible," observes Hansen of Specialty Travel Index.
In particular, "We've noticed a fair amount of intergenerational travel--grandparents with the grand kids--from all over the country on our whale watching cruises," remarks Alan Colby of Yankee Fleet [800-WHALING; in Florida: 800-634-0939; www.yankeefleet.com].
Observers also forecast a tremendous summer for family drive trips. "As Americans seek respite from stress, expect to see more people traveling to State and National parks," reports Judy Randall of Randall Travel Marketing, an independent research company that focuses solely on travel and tourism [704-799-6512; www.rtmnet.com]. She anticipates many will use "nature as therapy," wanting to join the grandeur of the outdoors.
The Importance of Travel Professionals
According to some industry analysts, more and more people will rely on experienced travel agents and tour operators to help them make their vacation plans. As Hansen from Specialty Travel Index explains, their knowledge and skill is essential in uncertain times. "For travel agents and tour operators, it's their job to plan safe and suitable trips around the world. With their years of experience, they can provide insights for travelers who have questions or concerns, and they can assure that everything goes smoothly."
The Benefits of Travel
More than ever, people need the sense of understanding and belonging that travel can bring, many observers think. "We're continuing to have new bookings for all over the world," states Country Walkers' Ellsasser. " On our trips, the focus is always on experiencing a country and its people. And by doing that, it's almost like we're fostering people's awareness of the good that's in the world."
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With about 42% of annual U.S. travel taking place from May through August (Travel Industry Association of America.), more specific trends will develop in the coming months. As the global situation clarifies--and hopefully stabilizes--Specialty Travel Index will issue periodic updates to keep travelers and journalists informed.