Travel industry scrambles to cope as Americans spend less

The sinking U.S. economy is forcing many Americans to cut back on or give up a hallowed tradition: the family vacation.

A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds that 58% of people who normally take an annual vacation away from home will shrink their vacation spending this year –– or just not go.

The finding mirrors a 2009 travel forecast newly issued by consultants D.K. Shifflet & Associates and IHS Global Insight, which research travel behavior monthly.

The firms forecast Americans will spend 9.7% less on leisure travel in April, May and June, and 9% less in July, August and September than in 2008. In sum, Americans could spend $30 billion less on leisure trips this spring and summer.

The travel industry sees the storm coming and is hustling to respond. For April, spring break time, airlines have scheduled 8.5% fewer seats than last April on domestic and international flights from the USA, according to OAG-Official Airline Guide. They've scheduled 8.4% fewer seats for June.

Travel website Travelocity.com has just launched a "deals" page. It promotes the biggest discount airfare and hotel packages by destination.

Legendary destinations are responding, too. Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is advertising three nights free, along with theme park tickets, with a four-night/four-day package for April through August.

But big vacations could be a tough sell for the travel industry in these tough times.

Kelly and Sally Hull of Windsor, Vt., for example, normally pack up their three kids each summer and rent a house on Cape Cod for a week.

Not this year. Although Sally's job is secure, Kelly's home improvement business "is dead," he says. "I laid everyone off."

For this July, the Hulls booked a rustic lakeside cabin in northern New Hampshire for $700 a week, less than half the $1,800 they'd spend at Cape Cod.

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