Friday, June 9, 2006

Outlook good for summer season

High gas prices keeping some travelers close to home

Express Staff Writer

San Jose, Calif., residents Mackenzie, left, Rob, Zachary and Terry Davis eat ice cream in Sun Valley Village Wednesday afternoon. Reservations at Sun Valley Resort for the upcoming summer travel season are a little above average for the month of June and near normal for July and August. Photo by David N. Seelig

Travel bookings for the upcoming summer season at Sun Valley Resort are slightly above average for the month of June and near normal for the months of July and August, resort spokesman Jack Sibbach reported Wednesday.

"We should end up this summer a little better than last summer," Sibbach said, noting that the resort experienced a strong summer season in 2005. "It was a good summer."

One notable change the resort may experience this summer is the infusion of additional Idaho travelers due to the high cost of gas, he said.

Sibbach isn't alone in his prediction that gas prices will influence travel decisions this summer.

In a 2006 summer travel report released Wednesday, AAA Idaho said higher gas prices could influence where travelers spend their vacations. For those travelers more concerned with rising gas prices, destinations closer to home may be more popular, the report states.

The report also suggests that local festivals, community events and recreation at campgrounds and lakes should be popular this summer. Additionally, a survey of AAA travel managers showed that traditional favorites like Yellowstone National Park, Disneyland and Las Vegas will be popular destinations among auto and air travelers in the West.

Sibbach said Sun Valley Resort is a popular destination for business travelers—who account for 65 percent of the resort's summer bookings—in part because those travelers can bring their families with them.

"There's a lot for families to do while they're in meetings," he said.

The summer season at the resort is also popular for business travelers and their families because children are out of school and can come along, Sibbach said.

The most popular recreational activities for travelers to the resort include golfing and ice shows, he said.

"Those two are big."

Of course, many of the tourists also enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding and fly-fishing, he said.

"All the things we can do, they can do," Sibbach said.

The resort alone doesn't just benefit from a strong summer tourist season, Sibbach noted.

"They (tourists) don't only spend money here. They also spend money downtown," he said.

Like Sibbach, Carrie Westergard, marketing director for the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau, said most indications point to an increase in the number of Idaho travelers venturing to the Wood River Valley this summer.

"Premier Resorts (property management agency) says Idaho is one of their stronger markets in the summer," Westergard said.

At a recent meeting, local hotel representatives and property management companies offering vacation condominium rentals generally agreed that the number of bookings for the upcoming summer looks good, she said.

Many Idaho travelers arrive for shorter periods of time, Westergard said.

"Long weekends or a couple of days during the week," she said.

According to AAA figures, Idaho and U.S. gas prices remain high and are currently at or near $2.90 a gallon for self-serve, regular-grade gasoline. High crude oil prices, above $70 a barrel, and gasoline futures trading above $2 a gallon suggest gasoline prices will remain high this summer, AAA has predicted.

Still, concern with elevated travel costs hasn't affected travel decisions in the same way for everyone, AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson said.

While noting that "a segment of the population is more concerned with budgeting than in prior years," Carlson said "there's a group out there with the wherewithal to travel that is looking to more exotic destinations."

In its 2006 summer travel report, AAA highlights figures from the U.S. Commerce Department and Office of Travel and Tourism Industries that shows the numbers of Americans traveling overseas increased by 5 percent in 2005.

That trend towards traveling overseas will likely continue, too, the AAA predicts. Four out of the five top travel destinations booked by AAA travel agents this year were in Europe. The list includes London, Rome, Dublin, Copenhagen and Cancun, Mexico.

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