Uptick?

Evidence is mounting that the leisure travel business is beginning to break out of the slow-growth mode of the last few years and finally kick itself into high gear.

It's about time.

One good sign is the unemployment rate. When the travel industry's phones stopped ringing in October 2008, the unemployment rate was 6.5%, having just jumped from 6.1% the month before. Over the next 12 months it rose to 10% and then stayed above 9% for two more years.

A lot of business trips and vacations were cut short or postponed.

April's number came in at 6.3%, and while this number usually comes with a lot of caveats and footnotes, the fact remains it's the best number we've seen since the recession began.

Another barometer that's looking good is ARC's running total of travel agent transactions. In the first four months of 2008, the year our troubles began, the transaction count came to 55.6 million. It fell to 47.4 million for the first four months of 2009 and never fully recovered. It stood at 51.8 million a year ago.

Last week ARC reported the four-month total at 52.5 million, which means that in terms of the transaction count, ARC agents in 2014 are getting off to their fastest start since 2008.

Consistent with that scenario is the latest word from the hotel-watchers at Smith Travel Research, who recently reported that the U.S. hotel industry achieved an occupancy rate of 59.2% in the first quarter, the highest first-quarter rate since 2007.

The icing on this cake comes from industry research firm (and Travel Weekly sister company) PhoCusWright, whose U.S. Consumer Travel Report makes the case that leisure travel is finally on the rebound after several years of stagnation.

According to the research, the percentage of American adults who took at least one leisure trip in 2013 increased by 4 percentage points, to 65%, driven in part by big increases in the incidence of travel in the 25-to-34 and 45-to-64 age groups.

Travelers also took more trips, spent more and were more prone to travel overseas than during the previous three years, the report said.

Add it all up and 2014 suddenly begins to look like it's the breakout year.

We still have to contend with global hot spots, volatile stock markets, creeping fuel prices and the threat of inflation, but for the moment these specters are not clouding the picture.

Let it shine.
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