Tourism Takes Off This Summer

OVER a million people are expected to go to India this summer - and hotel operators and restaurant owners around Edison, N.J., couldn't be any happier.The reason? "India" means a "cultural festival of India" hosted by Middlesex County College in Edison. Sponsors claim this is the first of its kind ever held in the United States. Visitors will be able to see some 85 folk dancers, hear authentic musical sounds of the sitar and flute, shop at 100 boutiques, and eat at 35 food booths. Best of all - for the New Jersey economy - the festival is expected to garner over $45 million in tourist dollars; local hotels are already about half booked. Edison's hotels are not alone. From Disney World, in Orlando, Fla., to beach hotels in the Bahamas, California, and Hawaii, bookings are starting to rise again, following the downturn late last year resulting from the Gulf war and the recession. Indeed, summer travel takes off in earnest this week, because yesterday's July 4 holiday comes so close to the weekend. According to the American Automobile Association, 22.5 million people will travel this weekend, up 12.5 percent from 1990. Travel on railroads, buses, and planes is expected to increase slightly. "We always see an upturn in automobile travel during the summer months when the economy is soft or in recession, such as has been the case," says Robert Miller, president of the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. To help motorists use their cars more safely, MEMA and its affiliated groups are urging drivers to have their vehicles checked before actually hitting the highways. Meantime, prices at the gas pump are dipping slightly in many parts of the US, boosting summer tourism. That price reduction stands in sharp contrast to late last summer, when Iraq's invasion of Kuwait helped drive pump prices up - and discouraged travel. "Feb. 26, the day the Gulf war ended, was the beginning of 1991 for us," says Mario Perillo of Perillo Tours, based in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Perillo Tours is one of the largest tour companies in the US, and conducts the biggest US travel business to Italy. Still, the combination of the Gulf war and recession has cut into the profits of travel companies. Mr. Perillo says he expects to end 1991 about 15 percent below 1990. Some areas, however, are doing quite well, including the Bahamas, Hawaii, and Italy. "I expect 1992 to be a blockbuster year," Perillo says. "Our latest survey indicates that the travel business is starting to pick up," says Todd Allen, an official with Temple, Barker & Sloane, Inc., an international management consulting firm in Lexington, Mass. TBS conducts a quarterly survey of travel agents. The results of the past five surveys shows that leisure travel sales dropped sharply from March 1990 to October 1990; sales then stabilized at lower levels through January of 1991. They were picking up again in April of this year. In the latest survey, for the quarter ending March 31, sales for cruises - in the Caribbean, Florida, and Europe - were described as "booming." Disney Company sites, the main tourist attractions in North America, were holding their own. The upswing in travel to Europe is considered significant, since sales there had been weak during the past year. Much of the reluctance to travel to Europe was "psychological," says Perillo - related to concerns about terrorism and the Gulf conflict. The TBS survey notes that while travel is increasing, people are opting for shorter trips - and at lowest possible costs; budget tours are gaining more favor than luxury packages.

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