Agent Issues Researchers say people are traveling but trips are shorter By Rebecca Tobin / April 15, 2009 Share 1 -- Industry researchers displayed positive attitudes on travel during a Wednesday session at Travel Weekly's Summer Deals & Family Travel Virtual Conference and Tradeshow.People are taking shorter trips but they’re traveling nonetheless, enticed by deals in the marketplace.“The need for people to get away is very strong,” said researcher Stanley Plog, chairman of BestTripChoices.com. “In discussions with operators, agencies and suppliers, what I’m finding now is universally that inquiries are increasing. Bookings are trickling in, but bookings will follow those inquiries. It’s starting to turn around already.”However, both he and Ypartnership CEO Peter Yesawich said that people were traveling differently in 2009. Yesawich said that 63% of respondents to a February survey were planning to take an overnight trip in the next six months. Of those who said they would change the way they travel, 87% said they were going to book a packaged vacation to save money, and 84% said they were going to spend less.“Bundling is in. Unbundling is out,” Yesawich said.Yesawich added that he was struck particularly by the findings that a slight majority of respondents said that they were going to shorten their trips. “As people act out that expectation … you see things like declining occupancy in hotels,” he said.“The great marketing challenge in 2009 is not to try to convince them to take a trip they’re otherwise planning to take, but coming up with creative ideas to extend the length of the stay.” Yesawich said his firm was “pleasantly surprised” to see a bounceback in an indicator YPartnership uses to measure consumers’ interest in travel. Among the six derivative measures of the index, perceived affordability of travel has shot up by 97% from October to February.“The message there is that the travel industry has put just about everything on sale in the past three to four months, and American travelers get the message,” he said. He also said that in their surveys of travelers, a surprisingly high percentage of respondents, 64%, said they were researching travel prices online. Lorraine Sileo, vice president of research for PhoCusWright, downplayed a suggestion of upheaval in the Internet travel arena. “It’s always about disruption, someone coming up with a new innovation, a new business model,” she said. But she said online travel agencies’ recent steps to drop air booking fees temporarily could drive more traffic to their websites.Echoing other participants at the virtual conference, Sileo said that sites like Facebook and Twitter had great promise for agents. But she also said that PhoCusWright research hadn’t yet drawn a corollary between people using social media and making travel decisions.