East Coast Tourists Ruffled by Wet, Wild Weather

THE resort and travel business has clearly taken some unexpected pummeling in recent weeks, particularly along the Eastern seaboard; woes reflect unusually cool and wet weather, Hurricane Andrew, and the slow-growth economy.

Nor is the East Coast alone. Hawaii has also been hurt, according to Mario Perillo, president of Perillo Tours in Woodcliff Lakes, N.J., one of the largest privately-held tour companies in the United States. Hawaii, Mr. Perillo says, was largely left out of the travel discounting promoted by airlines earlier this year. Meantime, many tourists continue to shy away from Los Angeles in the aftermath of the riots.

The US Travel Data Center in Washington has been forecasting a 4 percent rise in tourism spending in the US this year - and possibly more. That amount "is still considered within reach," says a spokesman.

Still, even with stepped-up tourist expenditures nationally - including the influx of travelers coming to North America because of favorable exchange rates - adverse weather as well as slow growth have left many tourist communities in financial difficulty.

"The unusually cool summer - and third coldest July on record back here - has definitely affected us," says Eugene Dilbeck, director of the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism, in Trenton.

Tourism is the Garden State's second largest industry. In 1990 tourists spent $18.3 billion there. Last year, the amount dropped to $17.8 billion. "Unfortunately, given the bad weather, we're now looking for a little bit less than last year," says Mr. Dilbeck.

Atlantic City is doing well. So is Great Adventure, a theme park. But travelers are spending less and avoid lodging costs.

Many tourists now are "day-trippers," Dilbeck notes, who spend on average about $45 a day. "Overnight travelers," who check into lodgings, would typically spend about $345 a day.

THE negative impact on hotels and some resorts has not been lost on Wall Street.

Mark Manson, who watches the lodging industry for Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Inc., an investment house, maintains that overcapacity has been "exacerbated by the economic downturn."

Mr. Manson has given an "unfavorable" rating to the lodging industry. Lodging, he maintains, "is unlikely to provide companies involved in that business with any meaningful growth in the foreseeable future."

In New York City, the hospitality industry - convention and tourism companies - has been forced to cut back its costs and the services offered in order to turn a profit. Hotel vacancy rates, while rising, are still below those of the late 1980s.

In Florida, officials are assuring tourists that Hurricane Andrew has not affected most resort communities. They admit that some tourists have canceled visits. Still, popular sites such as Walt Disney World are not expected to be hurt.

Though the influx of foreigners to US shores remains a bright spot, many Americans are also going overseas. Perillo says that so far, 1992 is running well above 1990 "which was a good year."

Perillo's popular package tours to Italy are sold out for September and October.

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