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.

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