Weather induces travel

January 27, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

Ice. Rain. Icy rain. Mush. Slush. Slushy mush.

Ah, misery. What to do?

Well, a lot of folks are ringing up local travel agencies instead of their tanning salon or therapist.

Travel agencies from Ellicott City to Laurel say they are experiencing a sudden boom in business brought on by the recent cycle of bleak weather.

Typically, January through April is a peak period, but the surge in business during the past two weeks has eclipsed anything local agents can recall in years.

If it isn't harried business travelers looking to re-book grounded and snowed-in flights, it's the weather-weary looking for an inexpensive junket.

"Lately I've felt like I should maybe just bring a blanket in and plan on spending the night. We are incredibly busy," says Joan Koch, a travel consultant at Town Center Travel in Columbia.

"People are calling and saying, 'Just get me out. Get me someplace warm.' "

Town Center Travel's four booking agents have been putting on a full-court press to handle the surge in inquiries. Calls to the agency have doubled in the past two weeks, said Ms. Koch. She estimates the agency is handling 200 calls a week.

At Bennett World Travel in Ellicott City, which put on its annual Cruise, Tour and Travel Show at the Turf Valler Hotel and Country Club near Ellicott City last night, business has also doubled over the last two weeks.

Business has been so heavy lately -- about 600 phone calls a week -- that even agents who specialize in business travel are handling vacation bookings.

"People simply want to get away. The weather is really getting to them," said David Coffman, assistant manager at Bennett.

"Everyone wants to go somewhere warm," said Shirley King, owner of Laurel Main Street Travel in Laurel. "We're extremely busy. I'm backlogged right now."

"A lot of it is an impulse thing," said Ms. Koch of Town Center. "They call on Monday and say, 'Can you get me out of here by Friday?' "

Area agencies say most callers are inquiring about quick get-aways to tropical destinations.

Cheap packages

"Since they haven't had time to plan for spending a lot of money, they want something that won't cost a lot," said Ms. Koch.

Inexpensive trips to the tropics are available.

For example, Town Center Travel's cheapest package plan to a warm, sunny climate is a round-trip flight from Baltimore-Washington International Airport and three- or four-night hotel stay at the Castaways Resort in the Grand Bahamas. The price: $289 per person, based on double occupancy.

Another popular deal through several area travel agencies is a $258 round-trip flight from BWI and hotel package at Carnival's Crystal Palace Resort & Casino in Nassau.

Mr. Coffman at Bennett World Travel says his agency is advising callers looking for inexpensive packages in warm places to consider booking a cruise package.

"They are the really good deals because everything from the room to the food to the entertainment is included in the price. You get on the ship and don't have to worry about spending a lot more money."

Travelers interested in flying on a Friday or Saturday will find that getting a flight on those days is increasingly difficult.

'It's in the 80s'

The most popular destinations are obvious -- the Caribbean, Mexico and Florida. At Laurel Main Street Travel, Las Vegas has been a hot ticket lately.

Ms. Koch says the island of Aruba, off the coast of Venezuela, is one of the most popular destinations right now, as well as Cancun on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

"People are asking what's the warmest place right now, and the answer is Aruba. It's in the 80s there almost every day," Ms. Koch said.

Florida bookings have also been popular, but not quite as strong as the Caribbean and Mexico because the weather in the Sunshine State can be unpredictable at this time of year, say area travel agents.

Ms. Koch said her agency also has seen strong interest in weekend get-aways close to home, such as renting a ski chalet in one of the Pennsylvania ski resorts. Ski vacation bookings to western resorts in Colorado have also been strong, but not as strong as the tropics, she said.

Bennett hasn't seen much interest in ski trips, Mr. Coffman said.

"People," he said, "want warm."

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