Recession vacations: do more with less

Vacation plans are changing. This isn’t exactly a surprise. With layoffs mounting and a careful eye trained on every expense, long vacations are becoming short, and short trips aren’t straying as far from home. For some destinations, this is actually paying off.

A handful of smaller cities are pulling in visitors that normally would set off for grander locales. Charleston, SC and Fort Meyers, FL, for example sustained double-digit growth rates in January 2009 (relative to January 2008), according to American Express Travel bookings. Tuscon, AZ, Palm Springs, CA, and Portland, OR have also seen surges – 12 percent, 13 percent and 38 percent respectively.

Even Philly is on the upswing, which makes sense when you think about all those New Yorkers who need a quick break from the city.

So, why do these numbers look so good? Well, it’s hard to say. Drops in airfare and room rates are obvious drivers. Or, it could be some sort of marketing savvy. When you look at the data, there’s no common thread.

What is universal, it seems, is that everything is getting smaller. Trips are shorter, people are spending less and the destinations aren’t as far from home as they used to be. With the many bargains that are available, we may be able to do more with less, but overall, we’re still doing a hell of a lot less.

Aside from places like Fort Meyers and Tuscon, there are a few silver linings. “Girlfriend getaways” are still going strong, but the ladies are stretching their dollars. Renting one car instead of several, chipping in for a vacation home and picking a day spa over a destination spa are popular cost-cutting measures.

Home port cruises are on the upswing, as well. Guests can drive to the port (instead of flying), cutting down on the total cost of the trip. Like everyone else, these folks are cutting some deals, too.

Pick your corner of the travel and hospitality business, and you’ll find more than a handful of bargains. The decisions we make come down to what travelers can afford – rather than what they want. But, we’re still getting out on the road.


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