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Travel Industry Poised For Busy Summer As Gas Prices Fall

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Even as prices climb and airlines pile on fees, travel industry watchers are predicting that Americans will vacation in huge numbers this summer. According to some experts, an uptick in travel may be due to worry fatigue: People are tired of putting off their vacations because of concerns about the economy.

"Our customers feel pretty good about where they are. They also feel that they've got a God-given right to take vacation," says Choice Hotels president and CEO Steve Joyce, whose company commissioned a Harris Interactive Poll that found 20 percent of Americans planning to take more time off this year than last. "We're a pretty good bellwether for the 99 percent because that's who our customers are."

Over two thirds of the respondents to the Choice Hotels study also said they would take at least the same amount of time off in 2012 than they did in 2011. This data is backed up by an independent survey (PDF) commissioned by SpringHill Suites, a Marriott hotel brand, which found that 90 percent of Americans are planning a trip this summer.

Demand is going up despite rising prices according to Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire group.

"You've got a recovering economy, so people do want to go travel more and they just pay it," says Bason.

Average airfare for the season is "about $500, and that's not counting all the fees," according to Bason, who is seeing hotel rates up five to 10 percent on average over last year, Still, some destinations offer hotel values this summer. Hotwire's data shows that visitors to Atlanta, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C can expect to good deals.

Bason expects Vegas to be particularly affordable as average prices decline by 10-15 percent compared to last year.

Gas prices have also been falling lately and analysts tell the Associated Press that the national average could dip as low as $3.50 a gallon this summer.

"Gas prices are very much about the degree of news coverage that's being given to them, in addition to the actual prices" says Bason. At under $4 a gallon, he adds, "People won't be hesitant to go at all."

Choice Hotels' Joyce agreed, saying, "Clearly the gas price thing is not having an impact."

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