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Travel Still Down — But Improving

Travel industry observes National Tourism Week.

Seated in the newly renovated Old Town Theater, members of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association (ACVA) were bombarded with statistics telling the tale of "Emerging Trends in the Travel Industry."

Linda Yelton, manager, International Research, Travel Industry of America (TIA), kicked off her presentation last Friday morning by making reference to one of Alexandria's more controversial subjects. "Doggie Happy Hour is internationally known and admired," she proclaimed.

May's Funside Forum, which ACVA dubs their informational meetings, concentrated on travel trends in recognition of National Tourism Week, as announced on the theater's marquee. Travel is the nation's third largest industry employing 1.7 million or "one of every nine Americans," according to Yelton.

"But 9/11 was a line of demarcation between the past and present," she emphasized. "The travel industry suffered a 24 percent job loss as a result of 9/11. It has still not rebounded to its pre-attack status."

To emphasize that point she cited: Domestic business travel is down 15 percent; domestic airline travel is down 14 percent; domestic hotel occupancy is down 1.5 percent; and International travel, the hardest hit, remains down 21 percent compared to the high point in 2000.

THE DROP IN revenue since 2001, following 9/11, amounted to $50 billion, she noted. "We still have a long way to go to reach the 2000 rate of income from the travel industry," Yelton pointed out.

But foreign travelers remain the big spenders, according to Yelton. "International tourists spend an average of $1,200 per person, per visit," she said.

Spending by resident and international travelers in the U.S. averaged $1.5 billion a day, $63 million an hour, $1 million per minute, and $17,000 per second, according to tourism promotional literature distributed at the forum. As one of America's largest retail sales industries, travel accounts for "$95 billion in tax revenue for local, state and federal government."

As for airlines, it's a mixed bag, Yelton noted. "The airline industry's rebound is not happening as fast as we had hoped. International travel is rebounding faster for airlines than domestic," she said. "But low cost domestic airlines are now real competitors for the big lines."

Another factor impacting the travel industry overall is the change in business travel. Although, corporate travel is "on the way back," according to ACVA's Tourism Research and Trends Report, "it's returning on the cheap."

National Business Travel Association reported, "More than 60 percent of the businesses whose travel budgets are up say they will opt for mid-priced brands such as low-cost airlines." The prevailing guideline is, "Forget business class, go coach and take a connecting flight."

Throughout her presentation, Yelton used a mass of statistical data to buttress her main theme that the travel industry is still hurting from the wounds of 9/11. However, she did conclude that the trend is toward improvement.

FOLLOWING YELTON'S statistical barrage, Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille told the audience, "Tourism is big business for us. Folks are going to go where things appeal to them and we are seeing very positive trends locally."

Mike Anderson, owner of Mango Mike's Cool Caribbean Cafe, proclaimed, "It's looking good out there. People are feeling good."

In keeping with finding new ways to generate enthusiasm for residents as well as tourists, Jo Anne Mitchell, president and CEO, ACVA, announced Alexandria will initiate it first celebration of Bastille Day this summer. "There will be a race on July 14," she informed attendees.

The next Funside Forum is scheduled for Monday, June 28, from 2-3:30 p.m. The subject will be "The Summer Forecast for Restaurants...or How long Can the Low-Carb Craze Last?"

That session's Speaker will be Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, Research and Information Services, National Restaurant Association, and ACVA Chairman, Board of Directors. The location is to be announced.