2010 Summer Vacations: Shorter, Cheaper, Closer-to-HomeDespite all the economic uncertainty, Americans reportedly remain optimistic when it comes to their summer vacation plans. The American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, released in May, finds that about 51% of Americans plan to take a summer vacation this year, and spend an average $1,000 per person on summer travel. Not surprisingly, that figure jumps substantially among young professionals and the affluent. Nearly nine out of 10 people surveyed also said they'll stay in the U.S. for their summer breaks. The survey was based on a sample of 2,000 adults.

The recession is still impacting nearly everyone's vacation plans. Among the people surveyed, 80% were trying to cut costs on their summer travel -- by driving instead of flying, bargain-hunting, reducing the number of leisure activities they partake in, or spending less time at their destinations once they get there.

"Stay-cations," vacations close to home, are also still helping to bolster the travel industry. The new Ypartnership/Harrison Group 2010 Portrait of American Travelers says that over the past 12 months, about one out of every four U.S. leisure travelers (with annual incomes of $50,000 or more) took at least one overnight pleasure trip within a day's drive of their home.

To capitalize on that trend, some state tourism officials are keeping their advertising campaigns local. "Targeting our surrounding states makes sense given the current travel trends," said Lancy Landess with the Iowa Tourism Office. "People are staying closer to home and taking shorter, more frequent trips."

Penny-Pinching Is Still the Rule

A report on Colorado tourism for 2009, compiled by Longwoods International, notes that 40% of overnight pleasure trips in the state made were by Colorado residents. Household budgets and job concerns are overshadowing people's vacation plans, "so their vacation budget will be a bit smaller than it has been in the past," says Michael Erdman, Longwoods International senior vice president.

"Obviously, the big chunk of change for travel [is for] transportation to your destination," says Erdman. "But once you're there, the two big components in most people's minds are accommodations and then everything else, led by dining [or] if they have to rent a car. Those are the big things ... they're going to be watching their pennies on." That penny-watching over the past several years, he notes, has taken its toll on the overall length of vacations. The average short-haul vacation is now down to three-and-a-half nights away from home: "There's not much more contraction that it can take."

"The current trend, especially in times of difficult economic conditions, is to see multiple, shorter vacations per year rather than big or long (say 1 to 2-week vacations)," said Dr. Daniel Connolly, associate professor at the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business in a recent e-mail. "This has been the case for the past few years. People are increasingly looking to take extended weekend getaways, many of which are closer to home (or within driving distance). "

But travel costs, says Dr. Connolly, are only one consideration when it comes to family vacations. "Many children are so programmed now with sports, camps, etc.," he says, "that it is difficult for families to break away for extended periods of time." In fact, the American Express (AXP) survey reports many parents (26%) spend more on keeping their children busy during the summer months than they do during the school year -- an average of $600 per child.

While the recession has slowed down travel spending, analysts believe the pendulum is swinging back. "Ultimately, with the economy rebounding, people are going to have to start taking more trips," says Erdman."Leisure time is important to people, and travel has typically grown by between 1.5% to 2% [annually], with the population growth. So pent-up demand eventually has to kick in, and after two bad years it's going to start turning around soon."

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