A gloomy travel market for 2010 will follow an ugly 2009

Everybody seems to want the travel market to recover next year, but it looks like more time will be spent in yards, instead. According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, only 16 percent of us are going to hit the skies or crash in hotels more than we did in what will go down in history as a dismal 2009. Close to a third said they are going to spend less time in guestrooms and cramped plane seats. The main reason, of course, continues to be the state of the economy.

Slow improvements to the economy, according to some industry analysts, should push demand for tickets and hotel rooms higher – not to mention services related to the convention and meetings business. But, the baseline is set pretty low, with 2009 having been so weak. American Express, the largest travel agency in the world, doesn’t see a recovery coming anytime soon.

The bar has been reset, and it’s low. It will stay low for a while.

The big beast to be tamed in the travel market, doubtless, is business travel. Until the corporations start to send people on the road more liberally, the airlines, hotels and other businesses involved in travel will continue to feel the squeeze.

What’s going to happen by sector? See below.

Airlines: Industry analysts see hints that the market is turning, with demand for seats up year-over-year (by month) since May. United Airlines sees “a very encouraging trend line,” and US Airways notes a steady improvement. But, the latter continues that a decline of 30 percent to 35 percent in corporate spending has been a drag, and November was the first month in which it was up year-over-year. And, November 2008 wasn’t a tough month to beat.

Analysts believe that “even a modest rise in the USA’s gross domestic product,” says USA Today, will kick the airlines back into profitability. Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest, isn’t that optimistic, telling the newspaper, “Business travel still lags, and I don’t know that I’m comfortable in reporting that we’ve seen any improvement in that market.” He doesn’t expect business travel to bounce back next year.

Hotels: What can I say that Melanie Nayer hasn’t? Not much, really. The past year has been miserable, with PricewaterhouseCoopers reporting occupancy plunging to 55.2 percent this year, from a 2006 peak of 63.3 percent. Next year, it’s expected to tick up only to 55.8 percent.

Room rates fell precipitously in 2009 relative to 2008, causing an average decline of 16.4 percent in the industry’s average revenue per available room-night. PwC expects 2010 to be worse than 2009, conflicting with the Business Travel Monitor report from American Express. But, there’s room for both views. Leisure travelers will have to spend a bit more, but hotels in business-heavy markets will still win some favorable pricing.

Conventions: Look for a slight increase next year – again, relative to a brutal 2009. For the good news about the conventions, you’ll have to wait until 2011 and 2012, says Roger Dow, president of the U.S. Travel Association. Through the end of 2010, approximately 40 percent of corporate and association meeting planners, reports USA Today, are likely to postpone or sink off-site meetings for the next year.

Momentum around meeting cancellations

Meetings and conventions aren’t just falling … they’re actively being canceled. While it’s easy to write this off as the erosion of a wasteful corporate perk, it translates to genuine financial crisis for the travel industry.

Over the past six months, 402 conventions and meetings have been canceled in Las Vegas alone. According to the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, this translates into a loss of $166 million for the city … and that doesn’t include lost gambling revenue. It’s no wonder that the city has to be inches from paying guests to visit.

Cancellations at Orlando haven’t been as bad, but the problem is merely one of degree. This year, the city has sustained an economic impact of $26 million from the canceling of 114 meetings scheduled for 2009. Because of all this, 146,000 rooms are expected to be vacant this year … rooms that were supposed to be occupied.

It’s been tough in other cities, too.

All in, this has translated to more than $1 billion of lost revenue in the first two months of the year from meeting cancellations, according to the U.S. Travel Association. The number is even worse when you factor in spending on rental cars, catering and local attractions.

So, for anyone who doubted the potential for more than 200,000 jobs to be lost in the travel industry this year … just do the damned math.

Baltimore tourism on the upswing

Fellow Gadlinger Grant Martin was right. Or, at least, he’s found a lot of people who agree with him. Baltimore‘s tourism business is on the rise. The city’s tourism bureau reported that it’s already passed the halfway point to its hotel booking goals for the next fiscal year.

The city has a goal of 475,000 future room nights, and the bureau’s sales team has already taken care of 301,800 of them. That’s 63.5 percent of the target amount with half a year to go. In a brutal economy, and in a city that isn’t usually seen as a top destination. The opening of the new Hilton Convention Center in August, which brings 757 rooms with it, is a big part of the city’s success. Another five hotels are expected to open as well.

So, what does this mean for the city of Baltimore? The 2008 bookings are expected to have an economic impact of $422 million.

Traveling on a budget? Add Baltimore to your agenda.

[Via USA Today]

Tips for Adult Expo: Take a shower

Every year, there is a quiet war waged at Adult Entertainment Expo (safe for work, just links to a previous article). On the one side are the throngs that come from across the country, eager to have that one-time meeting with Ava Rose or desperate to inhale Vivian West’s cigarette smoke. Opposing are the insiders, the people who work in the porn business. They use the convention as a way to reconnect with suppliers and clients … and to strike the deals that will feed them for the rest of the year. The insiders know that you will be there, and they know that you’ll be in the way. They’ve learned to live with this fact. I’ve been told, though, that they would like to pass along one request this year: take a shower.

I know how it is. You hit Las Vegas, and the excitement takes hold. You don’t need to eat or sleep. The booze and casinos are enough of a stimulant. Add a bit of porn, and the adrenaline spikes. You have no choice but to move nonstop. When I’ve covered Adult Entertainment Expo in the past, sleep was optional (usually about three hours a night), and I was lucky to eat once a day. I subsisted on caffeine and nicotine, and I loved it. But, I took a shower every day. At least one.

Want to know why? Given Gadling’s editorial policies, I have to hide the answer behind the jump …

A friend of mine, who is a fixture in the skin biz, asked that I share her advice plea with you:

You forgot to mention the #1 complaint about the fan boys at AEE [Adult Entertainment Expo] though… Please take a fucking shower at least twice during the four days you are at AEE! Seriously – that is the number one complaint from everyone working the convention, from porn chicks all the way through to the security.

Okay, there it is. If you think you have a shot with any of the young ladies whose work you have enjoyed in the past, you at least need to be clean. So, do us all a favor and use the plumbing in your hotel room. They don’t charge extra for it, and you’ll probably wind up having a better time. Assault a starlet’s nasal passages with your stench, and she’ll rush you out of her presence. If you don’t smell offensive, you may actually get a smile.

Get off to Vegas for the AVN Awards

Don’t lie. You’ve heard of the AVN Awards … but only from your friends. Er, one friend, really.

Nobody watches porn adult movies, but everyone knows someone who does, right?. Well, now that you have an excuse for knowing about the AVN Awards (porn’s answer to the Oscars) why not check it out for yourself? Part of the broader Adult Entertainment Expo (January 9 – 11, 2009) experience in Las Vegas, it’s only two and a half weeks away, and there’s still plenty of space on the Strip.

Before we get into this, here’s a word of caution. The links in this article are safe for work until you get to the very end. If you want to learn more about the AVN Awards or Adult Entertainment Expo, I’ve supplied the links at the bottom.

January’s a busy time in Las Vegas. The enormous, famous Consumer Electronics Show draws more than 100,000 people every year and overlaps with the first few days of Adult Entertainment Expo, which adds another 30,000 or so conventioneers to the Sands. Fortunately, Las Vegas is rich in hotel rooms. Bargain-hunters can get rates of under $100 a night at the Stratosphere Hotel.

Prefer luxury (or convenience)? The Venetian is the top spot, but it will set you back a minimum of $259 a night. You can right walk from your room to the den of iniquity that is Adult Entertainment Expo convention floor without even stepping outside. Of course, there’s another advantage. If by some chance AVN Award co-hosts Belladonna and Jenna Haze want to join you for the evening (they are porn stars performers, in case you don’t know), the shorter distance allows less time for a change of heart … and you need every advantage.


Don’t get ahead of yourself. Let’s go over the logistics first. After all, you can’t just stroll up to the Sands and expect the staff to welcome you like they’ve been awaiting your arrival. Remember: 30,000 people for Adult Entertainment Expo, with another 100,000 nerdy onlookers from the Consumer Electronics Show. When you hit the ground in Vegas, you must have your shit together.

Tickets to Adult Entertainment Expo and the AVN Awards are sold separately, and they are pricey (more on the awards show in a bit). One-day access to the expo will set you back $80. If you plan to go all three “fan” days (there are a few days up front when the show is open only to business and media), that’s a substantial amount of cash. To take the sting out a bit, order your tickets online. You’ll save $20 (per day), and you won’t have to wait in what is usually a horrendous line. I’ve seen people who buy tickets at the event spend more than four hours waiting in line.

You’ve run the ticket-and-bouncer gauntlet, now, and you’re on the floor at Adult Entertainment Expo! Music is pounding, and porn stars are grinding stripper poles and groping each other on mechanical bulls (well, they were at the last expo). All the girls and studios whose names you’d never admit you know are in attendance. Monique Alexander, Bree Olson and Sasha Grey are already on the list (these three links are SFW). Make sure your camera battery is as charged as you are, and bring a spare if necessary.

Excited? Okay, let me ruin the dream for you. If you’re going to Adult Entertainment Expo to meet a few starlets, have a blast with your friends and generally act like a jackass, book your flight. You are going for the right reasons. If you have a particular girl in mind and plan to win her over with your good looks and wit, go to the nearest roulette table and bet your life’s savings on Black 17 (much better odds).

Even without the torrid porn star sex that you crave, the convention can be a blast. You’ll get to see all the big names in the business, hobnob with rocker-turned-porn-director Dave Navarro and fondle the new sex toys adult novelty items that are coming to market. The pictures you’ll show your co-workers will trigger long, penetrating conversations.

For me, last year’s best-in-show was Natch Snatch (read about them, SFW), which manufactures environmentally-friendly sex toys. They have a cool idea and a snappy slogan: “Keep the tox out of your box!” The interview below gives a bit more color.

“Grip and grin” is a major part of Adult Entertainment Expo. The performers pose for cameras, and most will sit for a shot with you. But, there is always something interesting going on beyond the long lines to have Sunny Lane sit on your lap for a fraction of a second. Some booths have adult-themed games (dildo ring-toss), performances by strippers and product demonstrations. Last year (thanks to press access). The amateur porn stars of Abby Winters, for example, offered blitz chess at their booth last year. Look around; there’s more to porn than the girls.

Do keep in mind that business is transacted in the background at Adult Entertainment Expo. Sure, the bulk of the event is for the fans, but if you look to the backs of the displays, you’ll catch glimpses of deals being struck that will shape what you-sorry, “your friend”-will watch for the coming year.

If the convention isn’t enough to scratch the sexiest of your itches, buy a ticket to the AVN Awards at Mandalay Bay (separate event). This will set you back another $107 to $240, depending on whether you spring for closer seats. Or, if you’re traveling in a pack, just spend $2,625 for your own table.

In addition to Best Actress, Best Big Butt Series and Best Cinematography, you’ll learn first-hand which company wins Best Packaging!. Thrilling, right? Do it once … to say you’ve done it once. I’ve covered Adult Entertainment Expo twice and still haven’t been to the awards-not interested in listening to porn stars thank mom, dad and their agents for all the support it took to rise to the top.

Looking back, I regret not having gone. Last year’s guests were able to witness living legend Jenna Jameson‘s on-stage meltdown!

Okay, still want to trek out to Las Vegas for the expo and awards? For all you first-timers, here’s some important advice:

1. Bring an extra suitcase. They give out a lot of free stuff. My pen from porn industry hedge fund AdultVest (probably SFW) still works 11 months later. T-shirts, DVDs and posters are abundant.

2. Make a plan. There are a lot of displays and countless girls. Review the schedule to see when your favorites will be available, and use that to structure your day.

3. Don’t dress to impress, because it’s a lost cause anyway. Nobody cares. Instead, opt for comfortable clothing (especially shoes), as you’ll be on your feet all day.

4. Go with friends. Flying solo at a porn convention may make you feel awkward. Anyway, if you do get (incredibly) lucky, you’ll want someone who can back up your story. Would anybody believe that you ducked into a bathroom stall for a quickie with Stoya?

5. Take only the security guards seriously. Everything else is fantasy land, but these guys are paid not to put up with your BS.

When you get ready to leave Sin City and return to reality, be smart when packing your bags. Remember that your carry-on could be searched in a public setting, and the only thing that can make people happy in line at security is to see someone else having a mounting of porn extracted from his (or her) backpack. Yes, it does happen.

If Las Vegas is “adult” Disneyland, then Adult Entertainment Expo is the Magic Kingdom. Go at least once in your life, and make that once 2009.

Links related to this article are below. Content may be SFW, but the domain names could cause problems. Be smart; do this part at home.

Adult Entertainment Expo Fan Site >>

AVN Awards >>

The list of award nominees >>