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Top US destinations for summer

In new poll, humid Florida tops travelers' wish lists for summer vacations with Colorado moving up to number five.
Image: Florida
With the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico, as seen from Cape San Blas, Fla., a man and his son pack up their fishing gear and head homeDavid Langford / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Colorado is the fifth-most popular state U.S. vacationers most want to visit this summer, according to a survey released by the Travel Industry Association of America.

Florida topped the list, with 38 percent of those surveyed saying they wanted to head there. California, Hawaii, New York and Colorado took the next four spots, according to the survey released Tuesday.

Last year Colorado ranked eighth.

“This year we've had the biggest budget to promote Colorado tourism that we've had in a decade,” said Steve Szapor, chairman of the Colorado Tourism Board. “There's a pretty strong correlation between promoting the state and getting people to come.”

The survey does not measure where people will actually travel this summer.

The travel industry association said rising fuel prices don't seem to be deterring vacationers.
Travel in gas-guzzling RVs is expected to remain strong.

“Right now our rentals are ahead of where they were last year,” said Tim Beckett, president of B&B RV Inc. in Denver. AAA estimates that that 36.9 million Americans will travel on the coming Memorial Day holiday weekend. About 84 percent of them will drive, while 7 percent will fly. This is a new record for Memorial Day Travel.

AAA Colorado said Orlando, Fla., tops its list for domestic air travel and car rental reservations this summer. Within Colorado, the top three destinations are Durango/Mesa Verde National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand Junction.

Other US destinations and the high cost of gas

More Americans expected to tour West this summer.

By plane, auto and gas-guzzling RV, more Americans likely will travel across the West this summer, drawn to California beaches, scenic hiking trails in the Rockies and even whale-watching off the coast of Washington.

Although there are lingering concerns about the ongoing war with Iraq and the threat of a terrorist attack, most industry officials say the big question for the summer's success is how high gas prices will climb.

Some believe the cost—topping $2 a gallon across much of the West—will persuade many travelers to juggle budgets, stay fewer days or travel a shorter distance. They don't believe trips will be canceled, figuring most people put a priority on enjoying leisure time.

“The thought of prices getting higher is disgusting, but what can you do?” asked Scott Schramm of Maple Valley, Wash., on a recent day in Seattle. "People need to go places. If prices get to $3 per gallon, that might change some stuff."

Leisure travel is expected to climb 3.2 percent nationwide this summer, the Travel Industry Association of America said.

“The reality of summer travel is most of it is drive traffic. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on people,” AAA spokesman Justin McNaull said. “People's itch to travel is stronger than their financial limitations.”

Across the West, tourism officials are hoping for a good summer.

At Lake Havasu City on the Arizona-California border, thousands are expected for the three-day weekend, primarily from Phoenix, Las Vegas and Southern California, Jarrod Lyman of the Lake Havasu Convention and Visitors Bureau said.

He does not expect higher gas prices to deter many, although he has seen more visitors sharing hotel rooms. “They might not cruise up and down the lake 10 times, but five or six times,” he said.

California parks and beaches are dealing with a double-whammy of gas prices and fees rising between 37 percent and 92 percent for families, including a 150 percent jump for premium beach sites with sunset views.

Still, officials hope to match or exceed the 85 million visitors to parks and beaches recorded in 2003. “We were anticipating we might have a drop-off in camping reservations with increasing fees,” said Roy Stearns, deputy director of California State Parks. “It has been just the opposite.”

Disney has said attendance at the Disneyland Resort's two parks in Anaheim, Calif., increased 8 percent in the first quarter. Universal Studios Hollywood, which will open a new high-tech roller coaster, also is expecting double digit attendance increases.

Off the coast of Washington, Stuart Baker of the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce said crowds have steadily increased since Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “All in all, it looks like we are coming into one of our better seasons,” Baker said.

The National Park Service does not forecast summer visitors, and its officials have differing views of summer prospects. Some Park Service officials in Washington, D.C., say they expect fewer visits to destination national parks such as Yellowstone, Grand Teton or Glacier. However, officials at some of those parks say they already have seen an increase in visitors this year, including Yellowstone.

From January to April, Grand Canyon National Park reported a 10.5 percent increase in attendance. "We've been surprised by the number of visitors that we are seeing despite the fact that gas prices are high," park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said.

Kaci Guthrie, front desk manager at Marina Cay Resort in Bigfork near Glacier National Park in Montana thinks gas prices will affect her business, but doesn't believe the higher cost will prompt many to change their plans.

The gas prices are worrisome for some, including Bruce Howard of Grangeville, Idaho, who runs a whitewater rafting service.

“The customers who are coming in are going to have the airline surcharges,” he said. “I don't have many people coming in RVs, but at five miles to the gallon, that would be very tough.”

RV industry officials say they have seen no effect in reservations because of gas prices. “Realistically, most people aren't going to cancel their trip over $50,” said Chris Satch of RV America in Wheat Ridge.

James Williams of Denver figures travelers just have to deal with price fluctuations. “You've got to go with the flow,” he said. “There's really not much you can do.”