Vacation businesses forecast folks planning for premium trips to sunny destinations

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An extended dose of the winter blues is expected to push Americans toward sunny destinations throughout the summer travel season and beyond — good news for businesses that depend on vacation travelers.

And early signs are showing that consumers are willing to pay premiums to soak up the sun.

Even with air fares 6 percent higher than last summer, leisure air travelers are expected to reach 2.6 million, up from 2.4 percent last year, according to AAA Travel.

AAA’s Leisure Travel Index also projects the cost of Three Diamond hotels and lodges to increase 2 percent from an average of $215 a night last year to $227 this year.

In Pittsburgh, consumers planning to get away are ponying up to get as far as possible, said Tom Diecks, owner and CEO of McKees Rocks agency Greater Pittsburgh Travel.

Mr. Diecks said luxury cruises and trips to Europe and Australia have been outselling Caribbean and Mexico vacation packages over the past few weeks. His theory is that months of bitter cold and snow that forced people to become couch potatoes have sparked something of a revolt against lazy downtime, even if it’s on the beach.

“If you think about international travel … you don’t go to those places to lie down by the beach. People are tired of being cooped up, they want to do something different,” Mr. Diecks said.

Tracey K. Edwards, AAA Travel managing director of travel sales, said the move toward international travel could be less about boredom than it is about budgets. He said cold-related home repairs hit many consumer travel budgets, so people decided to exchange weeklong leisurely vacations for short, exciting weekends overseas.

“I think people that want to use the remainder of their vacation funds to replace a long holiday are planning shorter vacations and cutting their costs down by leaving a night or two shorter and by watching their budgets for meals and activities.”

In the states or not, an increase in outdoor activity is expected to impact businesses of all stripes that saw revenues take a hit during the winter, said Mr. Edwards. And with winter lasting well into graduation season, the sales boom could leak into the start of the school year, he said.

“Some kids in schools with brutal winters had a lot of school closings that extended the school year. We think maybe people weren’t making vacation plans earlier because they didn’t know when their kids got out of school,” said Mr. Edwards. “So we feel the summer travel season will extend into late September, early October.”

Deborah M. Todd:, 412-263-1652 or on Twitter @deborahtodd.

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