By Quentin Fottrell
American families may not be ready to change their vacation plans this fall despite some rather gruesome warnings from economists about a double-dip recession and analyst jitters over the recent stock market turmoil. It appears that more people will be treating themselves to a post-summer trip: 86% of U.S. travelers are planning to take off on a holiday before year-end, up from 74% this time last year, according to a TripAdvisor survey released Tuesday. Interestingly, it surveyed 1,600 people after the recent stock market correction.
Given the economic backdrop, some may find the results from such a relatively large sample surprising. Consumers were supposedly planning to cut back on their holiday spending for the rest of 2011, according to another survey released last month by Texas-based First Command Financial Services, which concluded that the middle classes are embracing frugality, saving more and reducing debt. It said some 63% of households making at least $50,000 a year are scaling back on their vacation plans this year, up from 51% in 2010.
So which survey should we believe? Dennis L. Foster, professor of economics in the W.A. Franke College of Business at the Northern Arizona University, believes it will take a long time for the economy to recovery and says that many Americans are simply not willing to give up some vacations. “The economy has to be really bad for people to stop seeing family on Thanksgiving,” he says. “There are still a lot of people who are employed and have good jobs with healthy salaries and they may not see any dark clouds on their horizon.”
He may be right: TripAdvisor’s survey isn’t the only one to suggest that consumers are not ready cut back just yet: Only 37% of people are planning to stay at or close to home Labor Day Weekend, down from 42% this time last year, according to a poll carried out by the website Travel-Ticker. The caveat: it was carried out before the stock market correction. However, it also concluded that majority of respondents (73%) were planning to travel more or the same this summer compared to 2010, with over 30% planning 2 or more vacations.
So will consumers shrug off the recent stock market turbulence, pack up their troubles and keep spending? Or will Labor Day Weekend vacations that were already booked earlier in the summer be the last hurrah for many consumers? “The truth is, no one really knows,” says travel writer Christopher Elliott. “The contrarians will always travel in fall, because it’s when they’ll find the bargains. Will people really cut back on that Thanksgiving trip to see grandma, or the ski vacation? If anyone does know, they should probably be doing something else – like picking stocks.”
Labor Day Weekenders, do you see blue skies ahead?