Holiday Travelers Spurn ‘Staycations’

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ORLANDO, Fla. (TheStreet) -- For holiday destination travelers who've been waiting to ditch their dining room table for Disney World, this could be the year their staycation ends.

According to the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, 39% percent of Americans will be traveling this holiday season. During the Christmas and New Year's holidays, the Department of Transportation's National Household Travel Survey finds, the number of long-distance trips of 50 miles or more increases 29%. During the same period, the average long-distance trip is 279 miles, compared with 261 for the rest of the year. The travel industry is already optimistic about this year's holiday prospects after nearly two years of doldrums.

For Disney World-bound droves, Disney's enormous but frills-free Pop Century Resort still offers shuttle access to the parks and extended park hours for only $152 a night.
"In terms of the staycation trend, it may be easing somewhat, at least this holiday season," says Hank Hudepohl, director of vacation rentals at TripAdvisor. "In an analysis of our traffic, only about 20% of travelers on average were investigating destinations within their home states, while the other 80% were researching destinations outside of their home states."

Steve Daimler, a spokesman for last-minute vacation rental site PackLate, notes that his site's properties at several tourists destinations are already fairly picked over for Christmas Day. Properties in Maui are down to 4% vacancy on Dec. 26 (with offerings down to no-frills rentals such as this $169-a-night one-bedroom condo), with only 9% of Orlando rentals available, ski cabins in Breckenridge, Colo., and sunnier offerings in Los Cabos, Mexico, only 8% vacant and Mammoth Lakes, Calif., down to 1.5% of rental properties ready to host Christmas dinner.

Residents in Hawaii, Florida and California were more likely to "staycation" and rent a property in their own state, but other areas have seen a spike in interest this year as well, Hudepohl notes.

Vacation rental site HomeAway spokeswoman Jaime Dito says interest in that site's No. 1 Christmas destination, New York City, has risen 29% from last year. Despite this, available properties still include a $200-a-night, two-and-a-half bedroom, 1,000-square-foot apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, right near the L train to Manhattan and its store windows, skating rinks and monster Christmas trees. The site's No. 2 destination, Miami, got a 5% boost from holiday snowbirds this year, with rentals including a $150-a-night two-bedroom condo overlooking Biscayne Bay proving popular with Christmas revelers from colder climes. Austin, Texas, meanwhile, has seen interest jump 98% as travelers staying at a $169-a-night, two-bedroom condo downtown get to check out the city's usual bands-and-barbecue funkiness, combined with awesome arrays of lights on 37th Street and the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park.

Not every Christmas destination has it so good. San Francisco saw a 21% growth in rental interest but a relative dearth of actual rentals. Somewhat surprisingly, the hotel industry is stepping up with some deals that could save a frugal clan's Christmas. Hotel site Oyster.com spokeswoman Stephanie Block notes that travelers willing to squeeze into 225- to 250-square-foot rooms can stay at San Francisco's pet-friendly Hotel Monaco for as little as $123 a night, including use of its free whirlpool, sauna and steam room.

Even hot spots such as Orlando and Miami still have hotels that can offer a home for the holidays. For the Disney World-bound droves, Disney's enormous but frills-free Pop Century Resort -- located in the park near Epcot -- still offers shuttle access to the parks and extended park hours for its $152-a-night budget price. Meanwhile, in Miami, the Metropole South Beach Hotel hopes you won't hold its brief flirtation with "Gym, Tan, Laundry" (it once housed the Jersey Shore cast) against it as it offers condo-style rooms with full kitchens for $225 a night.

The prospect of flying to any of these places, however, can turn that destination Christmas back into a turkey-, trimmings- and passive-aggressive family-tension-filled staycation as quickly as your anger-prone cousin can smash a radio after the fifth playing of "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Though Bureau of Transportation statistics say 91% of long-distance holiday travelers will be driving to their destinations, another 9% will have to deal with airport crowds, $10- to $30-each-way holiday travel surcharges and other assorted fees.

WPP Group's travel tracking firm Compete found that 60% of travelers it questioned for its holiday travel survey believe air travel is worse this holiday season than last. Even worse is that more than half say flights are a worse value year over year as airlines merge, seats and entire routes disappear, planes grow more crowded, choices dwindle and fees increase. While 12% of those surveyed in June said they'd fly to a destination this holiday season, only 3% have remained committed to that stance.

 

"One of the things that's been striking about our analysis of this year's travel is the early optimism and the erosion," Compete spokesman Lincoln Merrihew says . "General consumer confidence has been flat and below healthy levels, and my sense is that the traveling consumer was expecting that the economy would be healthy by now. But as the year went on, travel plans changed."

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