updated 8/30/2007 12:43:44 PM ET 2007-08-30T16:43:44

As Americans head into the Labor Day weekend, thoughts of fall and winter travel are likely not far behind.

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But uncertainty from the stock market's ongoing volatility and the housing downturn has started to creep into the leisure industry, and travel experts say they're keeping a close eye on what type of impact it might have on consumers and businesses for the rest of the year.

Mortgage defaults, delinquencies and credit quality concerns remain, and some Americans are likely wondering if that week-long trip to Aspen this winter is still a good idea. Travel analyst Peter Yesawich says most consumers will still be packing their bags but may scale back their plans.

"People continue to take vacations, they just take them differently," he said.

During past economic difficulties, Americans pared itineraries instead of outright canceling plans. Yesawich, chief executive and founder of Ypartnership, sees consumers doing much of the same this fall and winter. So instead of a seven-day trip to the Caribbean, a consumer may opt for a five-day getaway. Travelers will also look for cheaper hotel rates and airfares, he explained.

A survey of more than 1,200 respondents conducted last week by TripAdvisor, a unit of Expedia Inc., looks to support Yesawich's view. Of more than 1,000 homeowners, 9 percent said uncertainty in the mortgage market would affect their travel plans — including the number of trips taken and how much they'll spend. The results were not much different when respondents were questioned about stock market worries, with 12 percent indicating recent volatility would affect their plans.

"The vast majority of travelers are going to travel no matter what," TripAdvisor spokeswoman Michele Perry said.

Leisure-oriented companies might still face some troubles — but they won't be apparent overnight. There is typically a 12-month lag between when conditions start to deteriorate and when the actual impact is felt, according to Yesawich.

Some companies are preparing for the potential fallout. Morningstar equity analyst Sumit Desai said car rental companies like Hertz Global Holdings Inc. and Dollar Thifty Automotive Group Inc. are beginning to recognize their overdependence on travel trends. While the car rental sector became synonymous with airports over the years, a reliance on such travel during economic downturns could be costly. To that end, many of these companies are starting to branch out to more off-airport sites for other sources of income, Desai explained.

Cruise operators such as Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp. could also see some revenue loss. Bob Simonson, a leisure analyst at William Blair & Co. LLC, contends cruise lines started to feel pressure last year. The industry's entry-level product — a three- to four-night cruise — has all but faded into oblivion. The reason, Simonson says, is that the low- to mid-income consumer who used to go on such trips has been squeezed by increased fuel prices and the economy. These individuals were among those taking out subprime mortgages, or loans for people with spotty credit.

Simonson now sees subprime concerns spreading to the prime mortgage industry and fears the industry has yet to experience the brunt of the housing troubles.

"No one even knows how bad it is," he said, predicting the situation will get worse before it gets better.

But Yesawich has a different take. "If travel companies are concerned, I haven't heard it," he said.

On the contrary, Yesawich says hotels operators are raising their room rates while airlines companies are boosting ticket prices.

Mark Gordon, head of the U.S. hospitality practice at Cushman & Wakefield Sonnenblick Goldman, sees a similar landscape, with operators of upscale and luxury hotels still experiencing strong occupancy and increased rates.

"Market fundamentals are still quite good," he explained.

But Sean P. Smith, a senior analyst at Zacks Investment Research Inc., is a bit more cautious. While he warned it is too early to determine what possible long-term impact housing and economic troubles will have on the leisure sector, he did forecast more moderate growth for hotel operators.

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