No Place Like Home

Americans are beginning to travel again after the terror of Sept. 11, but they aren't going far.

October 21, 2001|By Stephanie Shapiro | By Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Howard and Harriet Diener won't go to Europe next year. Instead, they'll travel to the American Southwest.

The couple had always intended to see more of the United States, but the lure of overseas vacations usually prevailed. Then came Sept. 11, and the Dieners realized anew how much their own country had to offer.

"We decided we have not seen enough of this country. With the [terrorist] situation," says Diener, a Potomac executive, "the timing seemed perfect."

Next spring, the Dieners and friends from Baltimore will tour the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion national parks.

After Sept. 11, the urge to travel may have temporarily evaporated, but those with chronically itchy feet as well as more conservative travelers have resumed their adventures -- with notable changes in direction and attitude.

The intrepid traveler may still be intrepid, but for now, many tourists have set their compasses closer to home, choosing state-side destinations ranging from the Grand Canyon to Broadway -- and many are seizing the opportunity to vacation with friends and families.

Interest in dude ranches, wagon-train treks and other consummately American experiences has suddenly spiked, as has the appeal of "soft adventure" trips that take tourists gently into the country's great outdoors, whether on foliage pilgrimages or snorkeling trips.

Rocked by the terrorist attacks, the travel industry is working hard to find its footing -- from making hasty cruise-line itinerary changes and administering unforeseen insurance claims to launching patriotic marketing campaigns -- and to promote trips that meet Americans' traveling comfort levels.

"People are looking for more restorative trips," says Liz Leach, vice president of communications for gorptravel.com, a clearinghouse for adventure-travel excursions. "People are pretty much confining their trips to this half of the world. It's largely the United States and Canada with some of the Central American countries thrown in."

Diener does not fear for his safety abroad; but he, like others opting for a domestic holiday, is concerned that it would be difficult to get home if another international incident were to occur.

Examining post-Sept. 11 travel data, Leach also noticed that more "extended-family trips" are being booked. And, "The weirdest of all things, our dude ranch bookings have doubled" compared to this time last year, she says.

Within a two-week span after the attacks, Gorp booked 49 wagon-train trips through Teton National Forest, an adventure replete with family-style meals, singing cowboys and crackling campfires.

"It could be that people are so patriotic they want to get back in touch with a true sense of Americana and a simpler time," Leach says.

Beaumont Martin, of Roland Park Travel, has noticed the new, family-focused trend: "Families are definitely getting together in various ways, from Disney cruises to renting a villa in Colorado." Those seeking warm-weather winter vacations are looking toward Palm Springs, Phoenix and Florida. The Caribbean and the Bahamas are as "far as they will go," she says.

But even for those traveling closer to home, curtailed flight schedules, canceled tours, extra security and reduced services have made getting there more complicated.

For example, since the end of September, it's been impossible to fly directly to Bermuda from BWI. Popular, low-fare, nonstop flights to Florida have also dried up, says Kevin Abell, owner of Roland Park Travel.

For those still traveling abroad, Mediterranean cruises and exotic ports of call are also a casualty of the September attacks. Cruise lines "just don't want to be near Egypt, Israel, Istanbul," Abell says.

Flexibility, caution and preparedness, attributes once largely optional, are now requisite for travelers. Expect itinerary changes, new rules and revised State Department travel warnings, and don't be surprised if companies go out of business.

The sudden, temporary shutdown of Swissair and the demise of Renaissance Cruises left many travelers high and dry. Protect yourself from such calamities by using credit cards, not cash, to pay for trips, thereby improving chances of a refund. Read the fine print of cancellation policies, whether you're planning a cruise or a packaged tour. Travel insurance, encouraged before, is now mandatory, unless you can afford to toss $4,000 out the window, as Abell tells customers.

Angst's flip side

On the flip side of post-Sept. 11 travel angst are "unbelievably good bargains," Abell says, citing "$300 and $400 cruises for seven days in the Caribbean." European packages are also a great deal now for those not intimidated by the volatile travel landscape.

Many tour companies are hedging their bets, continuing to offer overseas expeditions, while emphasizing travel opportunities within the United States.

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