Aug. 26--PEKIN, IL -- The time for summer vacations and exotic destinations has come to a close, and travel agents say they sold less of them because of higher gas prices and the advent of "staycations," where people stick closer to home. "It's definitely hurt," said Arlene Heine-Meyer, owner of World Wide Travel in Pekin, Illinois. "As a whole, it's hurt everybody." Heine-Meyer said she noticed a decrease in leisure travel this year as gas and food prices reached record highs. "People just aren't traveling as much, period," she said. Travel agencies also say airlines charging for luggage, new surcharges and even more for tickets isn't helping. "What's irritating people more than anything is the airlines are charging for luggage," she said. Compounding the problem is the fact August is traditionally a slow month for agents because school is back in session, summer is winding down and people aren't yet ready to book winter trips. "I know we've slowed down somewhat," said Pat Anderson, agent with Suzi Davis Travel in Morton, Illinois. "I'm sure the economy has a lot to do with it." Anderson said retirees still travel, but the trips some are taking are "just not as elaborate as they used to be." A surprise for some agents is the increase in rail trips they've booked for clients. Sarah Williamson, owner of World Class Travel in Chillicothe, Illinois, said rail-based trips have increased and keep her business steady.
"I haven't seen that much interest in the past in rail travel," Williamson said. "There are changes, but I do think people are more open to rail travel." But some agencies say they haven't really felt the sting of decreased interest in travel.
Teri Cook, owner of Cook Travel and Cruise in East Peoria, Illinois, said sometimes high gas prices make airline tickets more economical, despite their increased costs.
"If you look at what it costs to drive long distance, it's definitely more economical to fly right now," she said. "A lot of families that would typically drive to Disney, they flew." "Business is steady for us," Cook said, but added it may be because her agency has been in business since 1992 and has built a significant repeat customer base.
For Anderson, the drop in travel seems to have been happening for quite a while and the recent economic pressures have only increased the problem.
"I think we've been making a gradual decline," she said. "I know we've slowed down somewhat."