Friday, May 29, 2009

Sunny news on the travel front

All spring long, the West's vacation destinations have been wondering what the future holds for them.

Businesses and employees in mountain resorts like Sun Valley hang on every tick in the stock market, every report about the condition of real estate markets here and elsewhere, and every piece of news about bank bailouts or corporate bankruptcies.

It's an ongoing and highly emotional ride for everyone in the nation, but the uncertainty is particularly acute in resort areas where the economy depends on tourism and second-home development.

The steady drumbeat of bad news has been depressing. Many business groups canceled spring and summer meetings at resorts from coast to coast for fear of being publicly excoriated for vacationing in luxury while customers and employees were losing homes and jobs.

Those decisions dealt economic blows to the resorts, their employees and their families. The Sun Valley area was hit hard by the phenomenon. Sun Valley Resort has turned its attention to ramping up entertainment at the new Sun Valley Pavilion and joined with the chamber of commerce to focus marketing on bringing in more last-minute vacationers from the region to fill the gap.

Despite the flood of nail-biting uncertainty, there's good news out there, too.

Hawaii, where the state's entire economy is inextricably pegged to tourism, is reporting that there's some sun shining through a lot of gloomy expectations.

In April, the state saw just 1.3 percent fewer visitors than in the same month the previous year. Daily expenditures per visitor were down 14 percent from $186 per day to $160 per day—in part because of deep discounts offered on travel packages intended to entice visitors to the Pacific paradise.

Two islands, Kauai and Maui, saw the steepest visitor declines at 11 percent and 9 percent. However, the Big Island and Oahu saw slight increases.

So, Gloomy Gus might ask, where's the sunlight in that?

Well, the good news is that people are vacationing. In April, they grabbed the kids, made some reservations and hit the friendly skies.

That's exactly the news the travel industry has been waiting and hoping for. That's exactly the kind of the news that is good for the Sun Valley area.

Americans are showing great good sense. They know they can stay home and bake themselves in gloom and fear this summer. Or, they can give themselves and their families a healthy respite that will help them stay strong through this time of change and uncertainty.

Now, they need only to decide to seek that respite in the Sun Valley area.

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