It Wasn’t the ‘Summer of Summers’ that Many Forecast
Undated (AP) _ Schoolchildren recounting ″How I spent summer vacation″ may exclaim over Expo 86 or Lady Liberty in the skyrockets’ red glare. The travel industry is exclaiming, too, over a strong season but some who dreamed of record- breaking tourist hordes were disappointed.
Low gasoline prices and worries about terrorism abroad as the season began created optimism for a booming summer. In many places, the bright forecast came true.
- The Grand Canyon echoed with the oohs and ahs of 12 percent more visitors than last year.
- 386,000 visitors besieged the Alamo through July of Texas’ 150th anniversary year, up 40,000 from the same period in 1985.
- New York earned about half a billion dollars during its 100th birthday bash for the Statue of Liberty.
- And by adding berths, Alaskan cruise lines operated at better than 100 percent of projections.
In other places, however, there was disappointment. Earthquakes got a measure of the blame in California and choking heat in the South.
″It probably hasn’t panned out as that summer of summers that everyone was predicting,″ acknowledged Allan Wilbur, spokesman for the American Automobile Association.
″I think generally people are disappointed because their expectations were very high in the spring,″ agreed Ida Simmons of the U.S. Travel Data Center in Washington. Even so, she said, ″most places are up rather than down.″
Still waiting for statistics, neither Wilbur nor Ms. Simmons is abandoning pre-summer predictions that travel volume would rise: 5 percent, the travel data center guessed; 8 percent, according to AAA.
Statistics that are available suggest the peaks and valleys.
Consider highway volume. Along Interstate 80 across Nebraska, traffic was down 4 percent in July compared to the same month last year, said Derald Kohles of the state Department of Roads. Yet Interstate 5 north of Seattle - a route to British Columbia and the Expo 86 world’s fair - saw a 30 percent rise in volume.
Consider national park visits. In June and July, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado had fewer visitors than a year ago but in August, ″you can’t find a parking place,″ said Bill Cleary, president of Club 20 which promotes the area.
Overall, visits to 337 National Park Service sites were up 6.1 percent through July, according to agency spokesman George Berklacy. The biggest winners were Olympic National Park in Washington state, up 18 percent; and the Grand Canyon, Great Smokey Mountains and Wind Cave, S.D., all up 12 percent. Yellowstone officials reported a 3.4 percent rise.
″We expected a 30 to 50 percent increase and it just hasn’t shown up,″ said Frank Pridemore, supervisor of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. As temperatures soared, many visitors ducked into the cool cavern and left without visiting the aboveground portion of the park, officials said.
The predicted flood of customers turned out to be a trickle at Bill Austin’s nearby Mammoth Onyx Cave and Buffalo Park.
″As nearly as I can figure out from talking to people at the National Caves Association, most are running behind last year,″ he said. ″And the phenomenon seems to go all the way from the West to the East Coast.″
After a strong first half of the year, hotel owners from San Diego to Santa Barbara, Calif., reported occupancy rates down 10 percent in July compared to July 1985.
″We were on our way to a record summer until that first earthquake rolled in″ on June 8, said Bill O’Connell, general manager of the seven Stovall’s Motor Hotels in Orange County. Then the cancellations began, he said.
Nebraska tourism director Peggy Briggs blamed cheap airfares for hurting car travel in her state, where attendance at 15 sites fell 6 percent in July, compared with a year earlier. Elsewhere in the Farm Belt and the oil states, the strained economy was cited.
″This year, they’re not spending as much money as everybody had hoped,″ said Peg Rannie of the visitors bureau in Dodge City, Kan., which nonetheless was showing attendance ahead of last year.
The springtime optimism was based partly on a heavy volume of inquiries about domestic destinations. Some in the travel industry pinned their hopes on a turn away from overseas trips, and Americans did cancel vacations abroad - European officials said U.S. tourist revenues were off by 30 percent to 60 percent. Still, only 2 percent of Americans travel abroad.
Cruise lines re-routed some ships to destinations passengers regarded as safer, including Alaska and Hawaii.
″We did in fact expect an impact from the tourism in Europe. However, it wasn’t as big an impact as expected,″ said Cheryl Gregorio, spokeswoman for American Hawaii Cruises in San Francisco.
″On average this summer our ships were going out at about 99 percent occupancy,″ she said. ″I guess you could say it helped top off our weekly cruises.″
It did more than that in Alaska.
Holland-America Westours Inc. put extra berths in its ship cabins to accommodate a record demand for Inside Passage cruises, and so their accounts will show a capacity of more than 100 percent. In all, about 206,000 cruise passengers are expected in Alaska this year, up from 171,500 in 1985.
Some of those visiting Alaska detoured to Vancouver for Expo 86.
Officials of the Canadian world’s fair have raised their attendance projection to 20.3 million visits before the closing in October. Through Aug. 20, there were 13.6 million visits, well ahead of forecasts.
Seattle is getting its share of spillover. Fred Burrows, president of the visitors bureau there, hooted: ″This has been our busiest year yet.″
An echo came from Dean Gaiser, director of Florida’s division of tourism: ″We’ll probably have our best year ever.″ After increases in tourists of 12 percent in the first quarter and 8 percent in the second, officials expect a 6 percent to 8 percent rise for the third, he said.
At Disney World near Orlando, ″We probably have surpassed our expectations,′ ′ said spokesman Charles Ridgway, declining to give figures.
Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., was ″doing well,″ spokesman Al Flores said. ″We’re not doing gangbusters.″
Tourism winners this summer included Texas, which is celebrating its sesquicentennial. Larry Todd, who heads the state’s tourism agency, said 20 percent more people were visiting.
Attendance was 280,000, compared with last year’s 165,000, at the Chicago Blues Festival, one of many events that helped raise tourism revenues in Illinois.
In New York City, president Charles Gillett of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau said the tourism industry did ″extremely well this summer, during Liberty Weekend, prior to Liberty Weekend and since then. ... Overall, perhaps the summer was 5 or 6 percent better than average.″
Charles McLemore of Arkansas’ tourism department said high mid-summer temperatures may have kept away a couple hundred thousand visitors, but officials still figure there will have been 16.7 million by summer’s end, up more than 2 million from last summer.
Voicing the feelings of many, he said, ″It’s slightly below what we expected but it’s still a real good year.″