Sluggish economy can’t keep people home

Tired of staycations, more planning on summer travel

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Will you "staycation" this summer?

  • No. The times still aren't great, but enough postponing. We are going on a real vacation this year. 16%
  • Yes. What with rising costs and stagnant-at-best income, we're going to be staying near home on our vacation. 35%
  • Vacation? What vacation? 49%

176 total votes.

Battle Ground residents Don and Linda Cobabe took a hiatus from international travel in 2008 due to financial worries in the midst of the Great Recession.

Tips to save money on travel

Don’t book on the weekend. You can get the best fares when you buy in the middle of the week.

Choose a vacation package that includes airfare and hotel. Some travel agencies allow clients to put down a deposit on vacation packages, so you can pay the full bill closer to the trip.

Fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. Your airfare is more likely to be cheaper on those days.

Set up alerts on discount travel websites, such as FareCompare.com.

Ticket discounts typically don’t start until about three to four months before the time of departure.

Airlines usually post sales Monday night, and other airlines may try to match their prices Tuesday morning.

SOURCES: FareCompare.com and Vancouver’s Silver Star Travel

But now, the retired couple, who lives off 401K earnings and revenue from rental properties, has asked an AAA agent to help them book a cruise on the Panama Canal.

“Our properties have depreciated quite a bit,” Linda Cobabe said. “Our 401K decreased, but it’s started to go up a lot. Everything decreased, while expenses increased. We had to save again for another vacation.”

The cost of travel has climbed due to skyrocketing fuel prices, yet travel and tourism seem to have begun a slow rebound in Clark County and nationwide as more stir-crazy Americans who can afford it finally succumb to their pent-up desire to go on vacation in the wake of the recession.

“In our surveys and anecdotally, our members are saying, ‘We have done the staycation for the last couple of years. We want to get out of town,’” said Marie Dodds, AAA Oregon/Idaho’s director of public and government affairs. “It’s costing them more, but they’re willing to pay. If they do have to cut back so as not to throw the family budget out of whack, they’re doing it in other areas. It’s very similar to after 9/11. People cut back on expenses for a couple of years, and then after a couple years, people are ready to do things again.”

Travel and tourism spending across the nation grew by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2011, a slowdown from the 2.6-percent uptick in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Economics on Tuesday.

Travel resurgence

AAA Oregon/Idaho and AAA Washington report a 10-percent surge in AAA bookings of cruises, vacation packages, airfare and rental vehicles since January.

Portland International Airport has seen an increase since January in both domestic and international air passengers, said David Zielke, the airport’s general manager of air service development. Domestic traffic rose by 5.3 percent, while international traffic increased by 4.1 percent.

Hotel occupancy rates indicate tourism within Vancouver may also be rallying. Vancouver USA Regional Tourism Office’s most recent hotel occupancy rates from March showed a steady climb in the past two years, from 49.7 percent occupancy in March 2009 to 58 percent this March.

Holiday travel down

Fewer people are expected to leave their immediate area for the Fourth of July holiday, but that appears to be a temporary step-back in what is expected to be a relatively active travel year, according an AAA projection released Wednesday. The number of people who travel 50 miles or more for the holiday weekend, June 30-July 4, is expected to fall by about 2.5 percent from last year, according AAA.

“High gas prices are having an impact, but last year was a huge year for travel,” Dodds said. “It is not really surprising that there’s a small decline. Certainly, it does not signal that the travel industry is in jeopardy or that everyone is staying at home.”

The income divide

Still, many people will remain at home this year,

Vancouver residents Steve and Vickie Wahle and their 10-year-old son, Steven, are one of the families that will continue taking a staycation.

“We used to do two vacations a year,” Steve Wahle said. “My wife is a Realtor, and I’m a general contractor, so we were hit the hardest (by the recession). We’re going camping somewhere in Washington this summer, and that’s pretty much it.”

The makeup of those who can afford to travel is changing and edging out lower-income Americans due to higher costs. That is evident in spending habits of July Fourth travelers. The number of July Fourth travelers is fewer, yet they plan to spend more than last year’s travelers, about $200 more. Travelers expect to spend an average of more than $800 this year for the holiday weekend, compared to $600 last year, AAA states.

The income divide between those who can afford to travel and those who cannot continues to widen, according to a survey by AAA and Boston-based IHS Global Insight.

The percentage of July Fourth travelers with a household income of $50,000 or less is projected to decrease from 41 percent to 33 percent as travelers with a household income of more than $100,000 are expected to climb from 26 percent to 35 percent, the study showed.

Fuel costs

Fuel costs are the main deterrent to travel since the beginning of the year, according to the economics bureau. In the past year, the average gas price climbed by 90 cents to $3.73 per gallon nationwide, said AAA. In Vancouver, the price went up by 89 cents to $3.82 per gallon.

Driving still is the preferred mode of travel, due to skyrocketing airfares buoyed by the high fuel prices, according to AAA.

Air travel

So far this year, spending nationwide on passenger air transportation has plunged 9.9 percent, despite growth of 3.4 percent in the last quarter of 2010, the economics bureau reported. Zielke said the Portland airport’s jump in international traffic since January may be due in part to new routes to Toronto.

Fuel surcharges on airfare put a damper on international air travel, the economics bureau said. The surcharges are not placed on domestic airfare.

“The cost of international flight has definitely gone up,” said Ann Sundin, owner of Vancouver’s Silver Star Travel. “The fuel charge alone can be $500. You might have a base rate of $300, but you pay a total of $1,100 to $1,200 with fuel charges and taxes.”

Vancouver resident Arianna Rees and her family used to visit Italy every couple of years to visit relatives.

Since the Great Recession began, the stay-at-home mother of three and her husband, Michael, have had to hold off on any international travel. They keep in touch with relatives by using webcams and online chats on the Skype website.

“We’ve been doing a lot more road trips because it’s cheaper, but with the high gas prices, we’ve cut back on that, too,” Rees said. “We condensed to one or two road trips a year to see family and friends.”

Out of Rees’s three children, only her oldest, 11-year-old Mia, has been to Italy with her.

“The reality of the rest of them going keeps shrinking because airfare is so ridiculous,” Rees said.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551, paris.achen@columbian.com, Twitter@Col_Trends.