What travelers can expect in 2011

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North Dakota enacted a hail insurance law. Crisco was introduced. And the hull of the Titanic was launched.

As years go, 1911 wasn't exactly lousy with interesting events; a century later, things look equally quiet, aside from a commemoration of the start of the Civil War (April 12) and a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.

But it won't be a total snoozefest in the world of U.S. travel. Indeed, if it's not events travel you're after, this may be the year to get up and go. Because 2012 is looking like the go-go year — the U.S. Travel Assn. predicts it will be about $130 billion better than 2009, the first full year of the recession — 2011 may be the last year to find bargains, said Matthew Stone, a professor of hospitality management and tourism at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Md.

There's pressure on travel providers, especially hotels, to maintain rate integrity — that is, not to train the public to expect such incredible bargains that it waits and waits to book a trip till the price drops. (We saw that after 9/11.) There will be sales, Stone said, but you'll have to act quickly.

Many of the bargains may be available on what we might call a "flash mob basis"— that is, you'll find out about them in a tweet and the sale will last briefly.

You also may find good bargains in states where the economy isn't a ball of fire ( Nevada, Arizona and California, for instance), and travel providers must offer discounts to make their numbers. But, Stone said, be aware that those states in fiscal trouble may levy additional taxes on travel products (hotels and rental cars), and some state services (such as rest areas) may be closed.

That last problem could be a big issue for the American traveler, whose vacation plans generally include a driving trip. The vast majority of vacationers travel by car, said Jeffrey Spring, spokesman for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

While you're crossing your legs, you might also want to cross your fingers that gasoline prices, which have started to increase in the last few weeks, level off. Gas prices in California recently hit $3.27 a gallon, on average, and are even higher for such popular summer destinations as Hawaii ($3.59) and Alaska ($3.53), AAA predicts. A $4 gallon of gas may be in the offing, a peak most recently hit in June 2008.

People don't stop traveling, Spring said, but in that fuel run-up, they did trim the length of their trips, Spring said, partly because they were also getting hammered by an economy that was tanking. "I would expect to see something similar if [gas prices] spike again," Spring said.

What? And miss Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, Colo. (March 4-6)? Skip Toad Suck Daze in Conway, Ark. (April 29-May 1)? Forgo International Rotten Sneaker Contest in Montpelier, Vt. (March 22)? We'd sooner go down with the Titanic.


Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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