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When the temperatures start rising, Americans start looking for relief -- a beach, the mountains, a northern lake cabin or even a dark air-conditioned casino.
In the summer of 2012, they will be driving, flying, cruising and gambling in greater numbers than they have in years, travel industry officials say.
"As consumers appear to feel more confident about the economy and the job market, we could see a steady uptick year-over-year in leisure travel during the summer months," said Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and global leader of Deloitte's travel, hospitality and leisure sector.
The trend has been noted locally by travel agents.
"I think it's going to be a busy travel season," said Nancy Winn, a travel agent with Travel Leaders/Spears Travel. "Airlines will be full. If you want to go and know your dates, you should book now because prices are probably going to go up."
Winn said she is seeing a lot of interest in U.S. travel this summer.
Flexibility will help vacationers save money Orbitz, the online travel site, surveyed nearly 1,000 U.S. travelers about their summer travel plans. The survey found 77 percent are taking a vacation this summer, with more than half (56 percent) planning to travel by car and 39 percent by air. The majority of travelers said gas prices will be a factor in where they travel this summer.
The Orbitz survey found more U.S. residents are planning to travel in July (31 percent) rather than in June (18 percent) or August (20 percent), with the remainder of travelers undecided.
Increased airfares and hotel rates will emphasize the importance of researching travel deals and being flexible on travel dates, Orbitz executives said.
"Hotel prices in many of the most popular destinations this summer are cheaper in June versus July, including those in eight of the Orbitz top 10 summer destinations," said Jeanenne Tornatore, Orbitz.com's senior editor. "Travelers who can be flexible on travel dates should consider a June getaway when daily hotel rates are 6 percent less expensive, on average."
Destination: American getaways New York City; Washington, D.C.; coastal California; and the theme parks of Disneyland, Disney World, Universal Studios and the Schlitterbahn Waterparks in Texas, Kansas and Florida are popular, travel agent Nancy Winn said.
"Oregon and the northwest coast are very popular, and Alaska cruises always do well in summer," she said. "San Francisco is great (and always cool in the summer). Stay a few days, rent a car and drive up to Napa (Valley wine country), Sonoma or Monterey Bay."
The Orbitz Summer Travel Insider Index reveals the top 10 summer travel destinations are Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Boston and Cancun.
Orbitz executives said that though hotel rates have increased 12 percent year-over-year in the top 10 summer destinations, there are travel deals available, with two of the top 10 offering average rates under $100 per night (Las Vegas and Denver).
Hotwire.com, another online travel site, found hotel prices in Washington, D.C., are down 16 percent for the summer of 2012 compared with the summer of 2011, and car rental prices in the nation's capital are down 53 percent from a year ago.
"Washington, D.C., is one of my top three places to go in the U.S. because of all the history -- and so much is free," Winn said. "Capitol tours, the Smithsonian, the White House, and the monuments at night; the Lincoln Memorial, the FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It's also easy to get around on the Metro."
Travel-Ticker.com rates Washington, D.C., as its third top summer travel destination -- despite the heat -- where hotel rates drop as low as $69 in June, July and August.
"The city also provides plenty of free entertainment, including shows and live concerts," says Travel-Ticker.com's summer travel guide. "Some museums also offer free entrance on a dedicated day of the week (e.g. Tuesdays are free at the National Museum of Natural History's Butterfly Pavilion)."
Escape the heat with favorite domestic, overseas destinations Kim Logan, manager of Owasso Travel, said her clients are choosing overseas destinations.
"This year I have booked more European trips than I have in the last five years," Logan said. "A lot of them are going to Italy or Paris. We have booked a lot of Hawaii and the Caribbean. We've booked a lot less Mexico this year."
Travel-Ticker.com's other top five summer travel destinations are San Francisco, Catalina Island (Calif.), Riviera Maya (Mexico) and South Africa.
"San Francisco, known for its temperate weather during the summer months, is ideal for travelers looking to escape the heat that the season brings to so many other cities," says Travel-Ticker.com's summer guide. "Late summer is the best time to visit the City by the Bay as it tends to provide a bit more warmth and sunshine, but never scorching temperatures."
Catalina Island, 26 miles off the California coast from Long Beach, is another cool summer destination where outdoor activities, including sailing, hiking, biking and scuba diving, are popular. Hotel rates average from $90 per person per night, including roundtrip ferries to/from Long Beach, says Travel-Ticker.com.
Summer is the "shoulder season" for the beaches of the Riviera Maya, which means fewer people and lower hotel rates.
"Hotel rates in Cancun average $93 per person per night, which are the lowest prices all year long," says Travel-Ticker.com. "By traveling during summer, you'll not only score a savings up to 50 percent, but you'll also miss hurricane season."
Summer in South Africa? Just right, says Travel-Ticker.
"Being a subtropical location in the southern hemisphere, South Africa sees its winter and off-season run from April through September, but that does not mean cold temperatures," says Travel-Ticker. "What it does mean is great deals coupled with sunny, dry days and pleasantly crisp nights."
A South Africa package tour offered by Gate 1 Travel includes roundtrip flight, 10 nights, hotels, safaris, a cruise, 15 meals and tours, from $2,949 per person in August and September.
Travel packages help families see northern mountains region Jessica Kooiman, president of Wild West Vacations & Travel in Rapid City, S.D., will custom design a week's vacation for two adults and two children in South Dakota's Black Hills or Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. Vacations in Montana and Colorado also are available.
The company's theme is "We do the plannin' -- you do the packin'."
Wild West Vacation's Yellowstone & Grand Teton Standard Family Vacation, at $2,975 for four people, includes lodging for six nights, three meals, guided horseback trail ride, guided Yellowstone fishing trip, white-water rafting trip on the Snake River, tours of Yellowstone and Grand Teton, chuck wagon cookout, tickets to a professional rodeo, and horseback trail ride at a guest ranch.
Wild West Vacation's Black Hills & Rushmore Classic Family Vacation, at $2,390, includes six nights' accommodations and four meals for four people.
Highlights of the Black Hills & Rushmore vacation are two days at a Black Hills guest ranch, horseback trail ride, chuck wagon cookout and Western show, gold-panning lesson and mine tour, guided candlelight cave tour, and three nights in the Hill City/Keystone area, minutes from Mount Rushmore, in a resort amid the Ponderosa pines.
"What we do is completely customized for the family," Kooiman said. "We spend 10 minutes to four hours with each family, massaging the trip to fit their personality, activity level and budget. We need a month to plan a trip at this point."
Kooiman and her brother, Jonny, vice president of the firm, grew up in South Dakota.
"We pick regional destinations in South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado, and it's all based on first-hand knowledge of these areas," Kooiman said. "You don't have to do any research into the area. We provide all the information in guidebooks down to the restaurant recommendations."
The company also supplies travelers with city and state maps marked with routes, vouchers and brochures, printouts and an itinerary with dates, times, mileage and directions.
Top 10 summer travel destinations With average daily hotel rates (and percent change from a year ago)
1. Las Vegas $95 (+10 percent) 2. New York $226 (+10 percent) 3. Orlando $101 (+20 percent) 4. Los Angeles $132 (+10 percent) 5. Seattle $135 (+9 percent) 6. San Francisco $170 (+15 percent) 7. Denver $97 (-5 percent) 8. Chicago $163 (+22 percent) 9. Boston $177 (+16 percent) 10. Cancun $212 (+11 percent)
Source: Orbitz Summer Travel Insider Index (orbitz.com)
Most popular cruise ports visited 1. Nassau, Bahamas 2. Cozumel, Mexico 3. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 4. Grand Cayman Island, British Overseas Territory 5. Juneau, Alaska 6. Ketchikan, Alaska 7. Philipsburg, Dutch St. Maarten 8. Skagway, Alaska 9. Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands 10. Freeport, Bahamas
Source: CruiseCompete Cruise Index, June 2012 (cruisecompete.com)
(c)2012 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)
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