9 reasons ’09 will be the year of the naycation

If 2008 was the year of the staycation, then ’09 is bound to be the year of the naycation.

As in, nay — we’re not vacationing.

The conventional wisdom about travel is that it will slip by just a few percentage points next year. But the unconventional wisdom — supported by several troubling surveys — points to a much bigger drop.

A recent Allstate poll found nearly half of all Americans plan to cut back on travel in 2009. An International SOS survey says slightly fewer of us — about 4 out of 10 Americans — are reducing their international trips next year. And a Zagat survey says at least 20 percent of us will travel less in ’09.

But that’s just the half of it. I’ve been talking with people in the industry, who tell me — direct quote here — that travel is poised to “drop off a cliff” in January. In other words, people are telling pollsters one thing but making other plans.

Specifically, they’re making no plans.

Here are nine reasons why 2009 will probably be known as the year of the “naycation” — and what it means for you.

The economy sucks
Andrea Funk, the owner of an apparel company in Olivet, Mich., has canceled her travel plans for 2009. “I think we need to see the stock market stabilize and the economy get better before we go anywhere,” she says. At a time of great economic uncertainty, she and her family believe a vacation is a bad idea. “We’re hoping none of use lose our jobs,” she says. However, on the upside, a bad economy often translates into vacation bargains.

Vacation budgets are history
Daniel Senie, a network consultant in Bolton, Mass., used to travel to the Caribbean a few times a year to go diving. “We stopped a few years ago to save funds for a kitchen remodel,” he says. He never looked back. “For me, avoiding air travel is my response to the lousy service by the airlines and TSA mock-security. The airlines have provided worse and worse service in an attempt to hold down prices, in a race to the bottom. Airplanes are dirty, amenities have been cut, and employees are upset all the time.” What does that mean for those of us who still want to vacation? That any vacation budget (even a small one) might take you far next year.

We’re tired of being lied to

People are forfeiting the great American vacation because they can’t stomach the travel industry’s lies anymore. Take the airlines, which earlier this year imposed a series of new surcharges in response, they said, to higher fuel costs. When fuel prices fell, what happened to the fees? They stuck around. “Jet fuel prices have gone from over $140 per barrel in August to under $50 in November, but airfares in October were actually up 10 percent,” says Chicke Fitzgerald, the chief executive of roadescapes.com, a site for road trips. “Americans are definitely voting on that trend with their wallets.” How so? By either vacationing close to home, or just staying home altogether.

We’re a little uncertain about 2009.
With the economy slowing down, uncertainty is keeping a lot of would-be vacationers at home. Melanie Heywood, a Web developer in Sunrise, Fla., says her business has slowed down, and she also recently learned she was pregnant. “We really need to save our money as much as possible,” she says. She’s hardly alone. Consumer confidence fell to its lowest level in history in October before rebounding slightly last month. If you don’t fear 2009, though, you might be able to snag a low price on a vacation.

This year’s staycations were boring
No two ways about it, staying close to home and “exploring” the local attractions can be dull, dull, dull. (Unless you live in a place where people like to vacation.) Might as well stay at work. Or take a long weekend and just chill out at home. Which is exactly what more Americans are doing.

The deals are good — but not good enough
I spoke at a travel marketing conference last month, and heard the same refrain over and over again about “rate integrity.” The idea is that if you cut your rates, people will not value your product. Instead, travel companies are offering other enticements, such as two-for-one deals or free room nights. But travelers are holding out for better bargains. “Looking to 2009, it’s likely that we’ll see all kinds of hotel deals to draw consumers in — discounts and special packages,” says Joe McInerney, the chief executive of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group for hotels. Yes, but when? McInerney believes the deals won’t fully materialize until after the holidays.

People just don’t feel like traveling anymore
Maybe it’s a little vacation fatigue, but there’s a sizeable group of people out there who just don’t want to travel. “I don’t feel any need to go anywhere,” says Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, a communications consultant in San Diego. “Even if someone dumped $50,000 into my bank account, I’d find better things to do with it.” This indifference to vacationing — particularly to traveling far away — can be traced back to the hassle and high prices of travel during the last few years. Simply put, it’s payback time.

The travel industry still doesn’t get it
Some industry segments, such as tour operators, obviously understand that customers want a reasonable price and good service. The most reputable operators, led by the U.S. Tour Operators Association, are offering incentives such financing plans and guaranteed rates. On the other hand, airlines are responding to the lousy economy by boosting fees and surcharges and raising fares instead of raising their customer service levels. That’s going to keep a lot of travelers home in 2009.

We’ve made vacation plans — for 2010
Already, 2009 is being called the “lost year.” That’s what many travelers are treating it like, too. “We have decided to put off our travel,” says writer Brenda Della Casa. “We fully intend to head back to Mexico or Europe — in 2010. Hopefully, things will be more stable.” For the contrarians among us, “discovering” 2009 may mean uncovering a lot of opportunities to see destinations you could have never otherwise afforded.

So how does this affect your next vacation? If you’re brave enough to take one, expect lots of too-good-to-be true deals. Even the smallest vacation budget might be rewarded with a wonderful experience.

Put differently, 2009 may be the year of the “naycation” for everyone else — but for you, it could be the year you take your best vacation ever.

The Staycation Effect: 5 reasons to vacation now

Here’s your reward for taking a staycation this summer.

The price of a real vacation is now a bargain. A steal, actually.

Why? A lot of Americans skipped their summer getaway, forcing nervous rental companies, hotels and restaurants to slash prices. We had our reasons for staying home, of course. Record high gas prices, a soft economy and air travel woes made us miss the expensive out-of-town vacation.

So between now and the holidays — the traditional off-season for a lot of vacation hotspots — here’s your chance to make up for lost time. The deals will be good. Really good.

Call it the staycation effect.

Consider that Florida is in a deep recession, weighed down by declining real estate values and rising unemployment. In Orlando, hotel rates are expected to go into freefall as properties get desperate to fill rooms.

Ditto for Las Vegas, which is seeing its lowest hotel rates in five years, according to a recent survey. Among the bargains: $60 a night at the Monte Carlo, $103 a night at Loews Lake Las Vegas and $199 a night at the Wynn.

But there are other reasons why you should book a vacation now, in the waning days of summer. Reasons that go beyond the bargain you’ll probably find.

1. It’s a “magical” time of the year.
When it comes to tourism, Orlando turns into a ghost town in September, which may be why many of the city’s top restaurants throw a fire sale. It’s called Orlando Magical Dining Month. The event is billed as a showcase of the globally influenced plates being served in Orlando’s “celebrity-chef studded eateries, one-of-a kind resort kitchens and award-winning neighborhood establishments.” Participating restaurants feature three-course, prix fixe dinners for $19 or $29 all month long. These aren’t B-list places, either. Among the participating restaurants are Le Coq Au Vin and Emeril’s.

2. Entire islands are on sale.
Few destinations have been as hard-hit by the staycation trend as Hawaii. The overall number of visitors fell about five percent during the first half of the year, which prompted the Hawaii Convention & Visitors Bureau to pump about $3 million into a campaign to bring people back to the islands. The result (PDF) is a comprehensive initiative offering deeply discounted airfare, free hotel room nights, free meals, free rental cars and free food and beverage dining credits. You’ll save “at least” $200 on your next trip to Hawaii, it promises. This kind of sweeping discount on meals, cars and other activities comes along once in a generation. It’s enough to make me want to say Aloha to the Aloha State.

3. Some vacations are free.
Ever wanted to visit Lancaster County, Pa.? The Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau is giving away two nights at the Lancaster Arts Hotel this fall. Lancaster County is one of my favorite places to visit during the fall. It’s quiet and the fall foliage is spectacular. If you’re looking for something faster-paced, Las Vegas is offering a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to experience Sin City with three chances to win everything from a tattoo at Vince Neil Ink to a Zero-Gravity plane ride. If you’re reading this before the end of September, there’s still time to enter the contest. If not, ask yourself: if more people take staycations, imagine what next year’s giveaway will look like.

4. Good things come in packages.
Not only are the package deals offered by the likes of online travel agencies like Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity getting more and more affordable, hotels are getting into the act, too. For example, at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Ill., guests can take advantage of one of its deeply-discounted fall packages. Among its deals are a fall bonfire special, which includes a campfire sing-a-long with a direct descendent of Buffalo Bill or a horse-drawn hay wagon ride around the resort, plus a $25 breakfast voucher and, of course, accommodations. It’s available from Sept. 5 to Nov. 23, and rates start at $119 a night. (The cheapest rate I could find on its site during August is $139.)

5. Yes, even Europe is discounted.
Worried about the sinking dollar? Just wait a few weeks for your European vacation, and you could save big bucks. I’ve been giving this advice for years, but this year the deals are particularly attractive. Here’s an example. Auto Europe’s combination airfare/car rental rates, valid on departures from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31, include roundtrip airfare (along with the fuel surcharge) and three days of rental. Boston to Venice, Italy, is $797. With the money you save, you could get a room at the San Clemente Palace Hotel & Resort.

But my favorite reason for planning a fall getaway goes beyond these sales and specials. It has to do with the fact that almost no one else vacations in September, October and November.

One of my most memorable off-season vacations happened last year at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Marco Island, Fla. The summer crowds had vanished, leaving a near-empty beach and a staff eager to lavish personal attention on the guests who remained. We never had to wait for a table at Quinn’s on the Beach, a restaurant that served tasty tropical drinks and Caribbean-themed appetizers. And the highlight of our visit was a waverunner tour through the nearby mangrove forests, looking for dolphin and manatees.

I can’t imagine vacationing at any other time of the year, not just because of the reasonable prices, but because it’s the only reasonable time of year to travel.