Vacationers Travel Roads Closer to Home to Save the Summer

"Staycation" may have been the buzzword this summer, but "near-cation" may better describe what travelers did during prime vacation season.

From Minnesota to Maine, many Americans vacationed closer to home rather than staying at home or traveling longer distances.

In an analysis of two summers' worth of bookings, Travelocity found about 8 percent of customers who bought air-and-hotel packages last year booked only a hotel closer to home this year, indicating they opted for a kind of near-cation, says Amy Ziff, Travelocity's editor at large.

And some local tourism agencies already are crediting near-cation goers with helping save the season.

"Day-trippers and locals made a big difference between a disastrous summer and a soft one," says Michele Carvell, who heads the Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association in Colorado.

Pikes Peak, the USA's most-visited mountain, has seen a drop in weeklong vacationers from states such as Florida, Minnesota and Illinois, Carvell says. But their loss is being partly offset by gains in families coming from the Denver area for weekend escapes. On Mondays, mom-and-pop hotels emptied as guests returned to work, she says.

At Pocono Whitewater in Jim Thorpe, Pa., a surge in customers from New York and Philadelphia helped boost summer business by about 5 percent over last year, says Paul Fogal, a company executive. "They're just not flying to Colorado or driving to Maine, but they still want to get out and do something," Fogal says.

In June, 12.9 million Americans researched in-state vacations on the Web -- 47 percent more than the prior June, says research firm Compete Inc. of Boston.

Boston officials had predicted a disappointing season because of fewer air travelers and an increase in day-trippers, says Pat Mascaritolo, CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. But in June, visitors started arriving by car from several hours away and booking rooms. According to Boston's most recent tally, 77 percent of visitors arrived by car, compared with 64 percent a year ago. They also came from areas closer to Boston, with 61 percent from 50-200 miles away compared with 49 percent a year ago.

City Tourism

Their presence helped Boston beat visitor projections and fuel "off-the-chart" sales for trolley tours, walking tours and CityPasses that bundle admissions to Boston's top attractions and museums, he says.

Yosemite's iconic Ahwahnee Lodge housed about the same number of people as last year, but fewer of them ate in the restaurant, says Dennis Szefel, a senior executive with Delaware North, which operates the lodge.

"Folks are stopping and filling up their coolers and making a picnic of it or eating in their rooms," Szefel says.

The trend also was evident among the wealthier crowd.

At Raffles L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills, where rooms cost $550 a night, more guests arrived from California. Also, the hotel parked a high number of cars; 65 percent of guests arrived by car this summer compared with 45 percent last summer, says general manager Jack Naderkhani.

This weekend, AAA expects slightly more people to stay home compared with last Labor Day weekend. If true, it would be the first dip since 2006.