Travel agents say price is right for booking trips

There’s a bright side to this year’s dismal economy: fire-sale prices in travel.

To woo cash-strapped consumers, deals abound in all areas of the travel industry — cruises, hotels, all-inclusive resort destinations and airline flights.

A Travelhorizons survey published by the U.S. Travel Association in July 2008 warned the travel industry that in order to attract today’s travelers, “Hotels, resorts and destinations will have to cater to an economically challenged and budget-conscious consumer. Travel incentives, discounts and promotions will be a strong influencing factor during the leisure trip planning process.”

Those bargains are a mixed bag for Megan Helm, of Lawrence, who would love to travel overseas while the price is right.

“What’s breaking my heart is all the cheap airfares, and I don’t have the time to go to Europe,” Helm says. “Plus I’m worried about my job security right now.”

Instead, Megan Helm and her husband, Ray, and three children traveled to Pennsylvania over spring break.

“Pittsburgh is a good, affordable location for us as a family, because there’s lots of inexpensive, family-friendly things for us to do,” she said. “Plus, Ray’s parents live there. We stayed in a hotel, because the five of us couldn’t possibly squeeze into my in-laws’ apartment, but we ate dinner with my husband’s family, to save money on food.”

Megan Helm says the family economized even further by driving to their destination. “We drove to St. Louis the first night and spent the night there at my mom’s house, to save money.”

James Hanni, executive vice president of AAA Kansas, reports that Branson is the hottest destination for a driving trip from Lawrence, and San Antonio also is an extremely popular outing. “Everyone wants to see the River Walk and go to Sea World.”

Hanni also said that vacations to Disney World “were huge in January — the prices were so reasonable.” He also lists Las Vegas as being highly attractive to many Lawrence travelers, because of affordable airfare.

Travel trends

Lawrence travelers are in line with the rest of the country, when it comes to destination choices. The American Society of Travel Agents recently asked its travel agent members what they saw as the most budget-friendly destinations for travel in the United States in 2009. Perennial favorites Las Vegas and Orlando/Disney World were ranked first and second, respectively, with Branson, New Orleans, and Los Angeles rounding out the top five.

Cheaper cruising

A travel trends survey released in January by Travel Leaders (formerly Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates), and containing responses from 547 Travel Leaders owners, managers and frontline travel experts throughout the United States, chose cruising, particularly in the Caribbean, as the most popular international “destination.”

Hanni of AAA Kansas concurred.

“There are great deals right now with cruises, with all the new ships coming online,” he said.

Cruise lines are offering free airfare, special amenities, $200 shipboard credit, and two-for-the-price-of-one deals.

For Lawrence customers, sailing Royal Caribbean lines in the western Caribbean is popular, leaving from Miami and heading toward Cancun.

“It’s cheaper to take a three- to four-day cruise right now than to go on a driving vacation,” Hanni said.