op quiz time. Which of the following currently is having the greatest impact on leisure travel: a) the economy, b) the threat of terrorism, c) health issues such as SARS or d) conflict in the Middle East?

The answer, according to a consumer poll jointly undertaken by Travel Weekly and The New Yorker, is the economy.

The two publications, which share a keen interest in consumer attitudes toward travel, joined forces to better understand the traveling public's present state of mind and, as importantly, their intentions regarding future travel. The study, titled "First Look: Leisure Travel Trends," polled two universes -- the general population and New Yorker readers (who, as a group, are significantly more affluent and better educated, as well as being a bit older). The findings were presented last week to a standing-room crowd of industry leaders who packed the auditorium in the Conde Nast Building in Times Square.

To begin at the end: Though leisure travelers continue to be concerned about their pocketbooks and world issues, they're still willing to explore the world and pursue that perfect vacation. About 85% of the general population and 95% of New Yorker readers intend to take a trip before the end of the year.

We wondered to what extent the close-in booking patterns that drive the industry's forecasters crazy are a result of deliberate decisions on the part of consumers to plan trips late in the game or whether it's done without much forethought. We made an interesting discovery: If the trip is considered by the traveler to be a "long" trip, they still want the security of planning things well in advance. In fact, almost a quarter of the general population and 16% of New Yorker readers say that they have begun planning long trips further in advance than they used to.

They don't, however, feel the need for a long lead-time when the trip is considered short. About 30% of the general population and 27% of New Yorker readers said for that for short trips, they book closer to the travel date than before.

We then segmented travelers into five groups: Cultural, Luxury, Family, Action/Adventure and Escapists (the last category includes those who want everything taken care of for them -- they just want to get away from it all).

The data showed some striking changes in four of these groups. Cultural travelers -- those interested in experiencing life in other countries -- have shifted from taking longer trips (seven days or more) to more medium-term trips (four to six days). Luxury travelers, who travel and spend a lot are taking more shorter and medium-length trips than before.

Family vacationers are spending less money on travel overall compared with a year ago and are sticking closer to home. Action/Adventure travelers -- the smallest segment -- also are vacationing more domestically but, unlike the Family travelers, are spending more money than they did in the recent past.

The Escapists' behavior has remained almost unchanged, and that's good news for travel agents, tour operators, resort owners and cruise line executives. They still like to take long trips, they still like to take international trips, they still like to take cruises and, more than any other group, they still like to use travel agents to plan and book their trips.

After the presentation, I moderated a panel of industry leaders that included Arthur Tauck of Tauck World Discovery, Bob Sharak of the Cruise Lines International Association, Doug Fyfe of the Canadian Tourism Commission, Sue Brush of Westin and Doug Baker of the Department of Commerce, and the discussion reflected the sense of optimism that the survey conveyed.

I noted that, as a journalist, I've found no shortage of news affecting the industry in 2003, but that the news has been overwhelmingly of one variety. Leaving the Conde Nast Building, I felt for the first time in recent memory that the good news/bad news equation may be more balanced in the coming months.


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