07/10/06 — Higher prices aren't slowing summer travel

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Higher prices aren't slowing summer travel

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on July 10, 2006 1:52 PM

Whether flying overseas or cruising on the ocean, high gas prices can't keep Wayne County travelers from their vacation plans.

Travel slowed a little last fall when the gas prices spiked, but Stephanie Hawkins at Quixote Travel said business has picked up now.

"They might put it off until the last minute, but they won't let anything stop their vacations," she said. "It's been quick, really quick. We used to have people leaving within three months, and we thought that was quick. But now, they're leaving within three or four weeks."

The biggest change, travelers waiting until the last minute to book their trips, started after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Ms. Hawkins said she believes part of the last-minute bookings comes from holding out for better prices, but Sept. 11 is still a factor.

The travel trend this summer is "cruises, cruises, cruises. You get your room and most of your meals included in the package plus on-board entertainment at night," she said.

"A lot of people like to gamble, and they have casinos. Another thing is you get to go to a couple of different places and only unpack once."

All-inclusive trips are popular. An example is a package offered by the Sandals properties -- you fly to a place like Jamaica, and all of the meals and a lot of the activities and beverages and gratuity are included in one price.

"So when you're figuring your budget you know the final numbers, and you can basically get off the plane with only souvenir money," Ms. Hawkins said. "Cancun, Mexico, is also big destination for all-inclusives and quite a few islands in the Caribbean."

Even with the higher gas prices driving up the fuel surcharges on flights, and some fuel surcharges on international flights reaching as much as $150, Eileen Conekin at All About Travel said vacationers are flying all over the place -- to Hawaii, Disney World and Las Vegas.

Wayne County travelers are taking a lot of cruises, especially European river cruises, she said. The short four-day cruises are more popular than the longer full-week cruises. And often, she said, people can find the longer cruises cheaper, because the shorter ones are not available.

She said her business has increased by at least 20 percent over last year in cruises alone, and more people are traveling now than there have been since Sept. 11.

But most of the airlines cut back their inventory by 20 percent after Sept. 11 and, rather than flying the big jets that could carry 130 people, they started taking people on small, regional jets that hold only 40 passengers at a time. That has driven up the ticket prices -- and supply and demand.

"The larger jets had more, cheaper seats available," Ms. Conekin said as she looked up what a flight from Raleigh-Durham Airport to Orlando would cost. The lowest ticket was $265, up $100 per person from years past.

Airline ticket prices go up and people still buy them, just like gas prices go up and people still buy gas, she said.

"I guess the money's more readily available. People haven't parked their SUVs. They are paying for the gas and still filling them up. I'm working with the same paycheck as last year and the year before, so I don't know where they're getting the money."