More will travel abroad, AAA says

Times Staff Writer

Airfares are up, the dollar is weak overseas and more people are worried about their jobs. But that’s not going to keep Americans from traveling abroad for the summer, according to a report unveiled Friday.

More than 25 million Americans are expected to travel to another country this summer, up 2.6% from last year, AAA said in its first forecast of U.S. travel abroad. Travel agents say international bookings are brisk.

“Americans truly work hard and longer than ever, and they believe they’ve earned and deserve a vacation regardless of the price,” said Betsy Sell, managing director of travel for AAA, the nation’s largest motoring and leisure travel group.


Foreign travel is “still the ideal trip for many Americans,” Sell said. “Americans will adjust their budgets, postpone other trips and alter their plans to take that trip they’ve been dreaming about for months or years.”

Charming Woo, a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley in Irvine, recently returned from two weeks in Greece and Turkey and is mulling over plans to visit Israel this summer. She said there didn’t seem to be any visible signs that fewer Americans were going abroad.

“People who like to travel will find a way such as not eat out or entertain to save money for a trip,” Woo said. But she added that once they left home, more travelers seemed to be on a tighter budget.

“We met a young couple, barely in their 30s, and they were really struggling to keep their travel expenses down. We went out to eat and they had only $10.”

Some travel agencies said Friday that although domestic travel appeared to be slowing, there didn’t seem to be any letup in Americans’ desire to vacation overseas this summer -- despite airfares that are 10% to 30% higher than last year. Some international carriers also tack on a fuel surcharge of as much as $200 to $300 for a round-trip ticket.

“They’re still traveling, but the places have changed,” said Diane Embree, travel consultant for Michael’s Travel Center in Westlake Village. Bookings for Europe have slowed, “which is not surprising, with the euro the way it is, but trips to Asia are way up. The problem I’m running into is flight availability and at a decent price.”


Travelers are willing to downgrade accommodations to make the trip fit their budget, Embree said.

Qantas Airways said its flights from Los Angeles to Australia in the summer are already running 80% to 90% full, which means many planes will be entirely full. Other foreign carriers at Los Angeles International Airport report similar loads.

“Although the American dollar has lost some ground with the Australian dollar, the euro and the pound are still higher,” said Wally Mariana, Qantas’ senior executive vice president, Americas. “Your purchasing power is still quite good in Australia, and as a consequence what we’re seeing is that customers are saying, ‘I’m going to take my Australian holiday this year rather than a European holiday.’ ”

According to the AAA report, China and India are expected to see the largest increases in travel from the U.S. this summer, with China travel jumping 13% as the Olympics kick off in Beijing. By volume, Canada and Mexico will remain the biggest international destination for U.S. travelers.

Other hot locations this year include South America, Eastern Europe and Ireland, AAA executives said.

“It costs $800 less to go to Ireland than to London,” Sell said, adding that Americans may be shifting their vacation plans to destinations that are “relative bargains.”