Three of the most popular US travel destination cities are Orlando, New York City, and Los Angeles. All three have seen increased travel this past year, and all indicators point to a continued upward trend in tourism rates for this coming year as well.
The global economy tanked a couple of years ago, and tourism suffered terribly as a result. It makes unfortunate sense, of course; when given the choice of making their mortgage payments or taking a vacation, few would choose the latter. Hotel GMs and marketers responded to this industry-wide crisis by offering more vacation packages and hotel deals than ever before, helping to drive down the costs of travel. Along with other incentives, and a slowdown in the recession, leisure travel rates increased. Many in the travel industry (including this travel writer) breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Orlando’s seen a boom year, mainly due to the opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. Tourists who come for the Harry Potter theme park attraction stay, though, and go on to visit Walt Disney World and other theme park attractions in Orlando. According to the NY Times, some analysts suggest that Disney World is still the clear winner in terms of attendance. Instead of being worried about the competition Universal Studios Orlando brings to the table, Disney World executives ought to rejoice in the inevitable spillover that will give the Mickey Mouse theme park a bump in attendance as well. Orlando, after all, is the theme park capital of the world, and tourists generally don’t plan to visit only one of the several theme parks during an Orlando family vacation.
New York City bounced back nicely from the “annus horribilis” for travel and tourism too. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that New York City was on track for a new high in terms of travel rates for 2010 back in August, and that was before popular NYC holiday events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Hotel occupancy, considered the strongest measure of travel rates in NYC, had higher midyear rates in 2010 than any of the past 5 years — though the average daily rates remain lower than in 2006, ’07 and ’08. This points to the slashed rates, hotel deals and vacation packages offered by hotels during the recession as paying off in terms of increasing travel rates, though hotels’ bottom lines may still be feeling a pinch. What with 2011 being the 10th anniversary of what’s commonly referred to as “9/11,” more travelers are expected to visit New York City and pay their respects at Ground Zero this year, too.
Los Angeles saw a 10.4 percent increase in tourist spending from 2009 to 2010, and last year also saw almost 8 percent more “overnight visitors” than the year before. That is, more leisure travelers came from further distances away, for extended stays rather than a day trip. It’s international visitors that make up the bulk of the increase in travel rates to Los Angeles: tourists from outside the United States increased by an enormous 20.7 percent last year! Domestic travelers to LA also increased, albeit by a less impressive 5 percent rate. New, expanded airline service from Australia to Los Angeles correlates with Australia now being the top international country to bring tourists to LA. China, South Korea, and Japan also saw significant increases in terms of travelers choosing Los Angeles as their US destination. Universal Studios Hollywood saw a huge bump in attendance — the largest since 1996 — with the opening of the “King Kong 360-3D” attraction. Culturally, the Getty Center also saw an increase in visitors (proving that some tourists know there’s culture in LA), and expects even more in the fall of 2011, when the much-anticipated Art in LA 1945-1980 exhibition opens.
Orlando, New York City, and Los Angeles aren’t the only popular travel destinations in the United States, of course. They are among the MOST popular, though, and the upwards trend of travel to these three cities is a positive indicator for generally increasing leisure travel rates across the board. Vacations and travel are important, not just for our well-being, but for the health of local economies as well. Good news for travel is good news for us all.