Vacation travel picking up; for business, not so much

With the economy on the rebound, Americans once again are cracking open their pocketbooks to take family vacations and other leisure trips.

But corporate managers in charge of spending for business conferences and conventions remain tightfisted with their money.

That is one conclusion from a study of bookings at nearly 4,000 hotels by TravelClick, a New York company that provides booking software and business data for major hotel chains.

Hotel bookings for leisure travelers in North America for the next 12 months are up 4.6%, while bookings for individual business travelers are up 7% compared with the previous period, according to TravelClick.

But bookings for groups are up only 1.7%, according to the report.


“What that would tell me is that indeed there is caution in buying in the business environment,” said Tim Hart, executive vice president for business intelligence at TravelClick.

That trend holds true in Los Angeles, where the city’s convention center has booked 23 conventions for 2013, the same number as 2012. But the conventions are much smaller compared with last year, when the city hosted major gatherings such as the American Heart Assn. conference, which drew about 28,000 people.

“They are still coming for meetings, but maybe the travel budget has been cut so they might not be staying as long,” said Susan Lomax, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.

The good news for local hotel owners is that tourism remains strong. The city hosted a record 41.4 million visitors last year, and all signs point to another record-breaking year, with hotel bookings for tourists up 33% this year, Lomax said.

American putting more seats in planes

The squeeze continues.

Joining several other airlines that have packed their cabins with extra seats, American Airlines said it plans to squeeze in more seats on its Boeing 737 and MD-80 planes, which make up more than 60% of the fleet.

The airline, which expects to emerge from bankruptcy and merge with US Airways in the next few months, has yet to decide how many seats it will add.

“Although we expect to add seats to the 737 and MD-80 fleets, we are evaluating the right number of seats and the impact on revenue and cost while retaining our Main Cabin Extra product,” the airline said in a statement.

One consideration is that by adding seats, American may be required to add an extra flight attendant on each flight to meet a Federal Aviation Administration rule requiring one flight attendant for every 50 seats.

If this sounds like deja vu, it’s because American announced plans last year to install 10 extra seats on its Boeing 777 to make room for lie-flat seats in business class. The airline said it will begin to add those seats next year.

American is not unique in trying to squeeze more revenue out of each plane.

Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest and Spirit airlines have all installed seats with thinner seat back cushions, allowing the carriers to squeeze in more seats per cabin. Spirit, for example, packs 178 seats on an Airbus 320, while United puts 138 seats on the same aircraft model.

Singapore Airlines’ menus varies by airport

On Singapore Airlines, the onboard menu changes with each airport the carrier serves so fliers can order local dishes or drinks.

For example, passengers flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong or South Korea can order Napa Valley wines.

“The whole program is to give passengers a taste of something familiar,” said James Boyd, a spokesman for the airline.

What do passengers flying from Los Angeles get? A selection of doughnuts from Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood.

The doughnuts, which are delivered daily to the airline’s catering facility, are made a bit smaller than typical Randy’s Donuts to better fit on the airplane’s serving dishes.

Also, the deep-fried pastries are offered only in the high-priced suites and in the business- and first-class sections — not in economy.