Time to Travel: All-inclusive packages, incentives woo vacationers

While the economic downturn has caused many Americans to reduce their discretionary spending, local travel agents report that price cuts and heavy incentive offers are enticing travelers to pack their bags and get away from it all.

For consumers who have been hesitant to travel, Doris White of Travel Dynamics in La Jolla said this is great time to maximize one's travel dollars.

"There's a lot of good value out there right now," White said.

Tim Smith, president of Carefree Vacations, agreed: "It's really a great time for travel. If (consumers) understood what I know, they'd be flocking to the agencies."

The numbers are up

Americans may be pinching their pennies when it comes to buying big-ticket items and eating out less often, but the travel industry has remained relatively stable, experts said.

Some travel planners have reported a slight drop in business, but a survey by the U.S. Travel Association revealed that an estimated 54 percent of American households are planning to take at least one leisure trip this summer, compared with 50 percent at the same time last year.

Some individuals seem even more determined than ever to take that trip of a lifetime.

Barbara Jenkins-Lee, owner of Rancho Del Mar Travel in Solana Beach, said her agency has remained busy.

"People who have had nest eggs erode are saying: 'What the heck. My stock might be even worse next year. I might as well spend it now,' " Jenkins-Lee said.

The economy is also impacting the industry in that consumers recognize the need to get away from what they're going through, Smith said.

How the industry is changing

Although people are still traveling, White said there has been a definite shift in where and how they are spending their money.

"Last year, 75 percent of what I was doing was international travel," she said. "This year, people are staying closer to home."

That has resulted in an increase in domestic travel, as well as more and more vacationers targeting Canada, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia.

Vancouver and Whistler, Canada, are growing in popularity because the 2010 Winter Olympics will be hosted there, White said, even among people not attending the Olympics.

Both White and Smith are seeing more and more travelers wait until the last minute to buy.

"Usually by now, mid-June, everybody's summer plans would be set," White said.

There's good reason to hold off, according to White. With occupancy down on cruise ships, vacancies up at hotels and an increase in cancellations, companies have been forced to slash prices and develop incentives to attract business.

"This year, now more than ever, it's like the longer you wait, the better a deal you can get," White said. "They're all offering something special."

There also seems to be a shift from "indulgent" travel, such as three-week European excursions or spa getaways, to trips that focus on creating memories and connecting with family.

People are planning vacations with extended family or multiple generations, White said.

"Travel is about an experience," Smith said. "It is not about price, but price is a component."

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