Leading Travel Companies Discuss State of Industry, Trends for Holiday Season

Best Western, AAA and SideStep Predict Record-Breaking Summer; Offer Money-Saving Tips for Fall, Winter Trips

NEW YORK, Aug. 2 /PRNewswire/ — As the busy 2005 summer travel season reaches its peak this week, travel industry leaders around the country are predicting record-breaking numbers that are expected to continue throughout the rest of the year. Executives from Best Western International, the world’s largest hotel chain, AAA and SideStep, the traveler’s search engine, recently met in New York City to discuss how the current travel boom is affecting the industry today, as well as to offer their predictions on what will be the hottest trends in 2005 holiday travel.

Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing for Best Western, says this year’s high gas prices, coupled with recent events such as an early and active hurricane season, have not deterred travel within North America. In fact, 2005 is shaping up to be the busiest and most profitable travel year ever.

“Record numbers of travelers visiting such popular cities as New York and Orlando are increasing hotel occupancies like never before,” said Dowling. “It’s becoming more difficult to not only find a great deal, but sometimes to even find a room at all. People want to travel, and they’re doing it regardless of cost or other factors that are beyond their control.”

PACKAGE DEALS ARE STILL HOT

Travel packages — typically complete with airfare, hotel and car rental — are one way vacationers can find great deals. Travel packages are up more than six percent so far this year at AAA’s travel agencies, where they comprise about one-third of its vacation bookings.

“Vacation packages can offer travelers real value by bundling lower rates for transportation, hotels and more,” said Betsy Sell, managing director of travel products and services for AAA Travel. “What’s more, they can simplify the decision process for travelers so that they can spend less time worrying about planning their trips and more time enjoying their vacation.”

Packages have become an increasingly popular offering from Internet sites as well. SideStep, which recently launched an online beta version of this specific search function, lets consumers choose from a wide range of options to fit their needs.

“Vacation packages offer ease of booking and a cost savings for consumers, while at the same time giving travel suppliers better profit margins,” said Don Smith, vice president of hotels for SideStep.

FALL/WINTER TRAVEL TRENDS AND PREDICTIONS

Although the busy summer travel season comes to an unofficial close after Labor Day weekend, industry leaders predict that the 2005 holidays will also generate record-breaking numbers.

“This year’s Fourth of July holiday weekend put more people on the road and in the skies than ever before, amid a summer that will likely finish with record numbers of travelers,” said Dowling. “We expect the strong travel season to continue right through the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Travelers who wait to make their holiday travel plans could find themselves out of luck.”

Multigenerational trips are among the most popular this year, with 34 percent of travelers gathering for family reunions, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. The Internet has fueled much of this growth as distant family members keep in touch via email and many Americans research their genealogy online.

In addition, multiple, shorter vacations, rather than the traditional trip of two weeks or longer, are increasing in popularity. Travel lasting three to four days, as well as seven-day vacations that include more than one destination, are also on the increase, according to Dowling, and are expected to be a strong factor in holiday plans as consumers visit numerous family members and friends.

TIPS FOR A STRESS-FREE HOLIDAY

In order to ease the stress of this year’s holiday travel season, the industry panel offers this advice: book hotel, airfare and car rentals as soon as possible; fly early in the day and on nonstop flights, if possible — even if it means paying a little more; and consider traveling on the holiday itself.

Additional money- and time-saving tips for the fall and winter seasons include:

* Consider traveling off-peak. Travel deals, including cruise
specials, are more readily available outside the holiday rush.
Look to travel during the first two weeks of December or during the
month of January.
* Focus on complimentary family-friendly services. Hotels that offer
free amenities such as on-site breakfast, swimming pools and water
parks, as well as high-speed Internet access, provide added
convenience while keeping the family entertained and in touch with
friends and family back home.
* Join loyalty programs. Memberships to Best Western’s Gold Crown
Club International and similar frequent stay programs allow you to
earn points that can be redeemed for a variety of awards, including
free room nights with no blackout dates.
* Consider purchasing travel insurance. Travel agents and sites such
as www.insuremytrip.com provide lists of travel insurance plans
that protect consumers should they be unable to travel, such as
when a family member or they themselves fall ill.

About Best Western International

Best Western International is THE WORLD’S LARGEST HOTEL CHAIN(R) with more than 4,100 hotels in 80 countries and territories. It is a membership association of independently owned and operated hotels that provides marketing, reservations and operational support to its members. For more information, visit: www.bestwestern.com.

About AAA

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides its 48 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services, and member-only savings. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA Travel’s more than 1,000 full-service travel agency locations serve members and other clients across the United States and Canada. With more than $3 billion in sales in 2004, AAA is the nation’s largest full-service travel agency dedicated to leisure travelers. For more information, visit: www.aaa.com.

About SideStep

SideStep — the traveler’s search engine — brings compelling offers from numerous travel providers to more than 4.7 million consumers each month. The company has forged alliances with leading travel marketers such as JetBlue Airways, Continental Airlines, Hyatt Corporation, Best Western, National Leisure Group and Thrifty Car Rental. SideStep has been named one of TIME Magazine’s “50 Coolest Web Sites” and declared “Best of the Web” by Forbes. The company is privately held and has raised more than $17M in funding from Trident Capital and individual investors. For more information, visit www.sidestep.com.

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