International trips on the rise, but air travel dropping

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In 2014, the Consumer Trends survey found that international travel accounted for 16% of all trips. This year, it's 19%. That's a healthy jump of nearly 20%, and there are several key reasons behind it, according to agent Gabriel Garavanian, owner of Garavanian Travel in North Chelmsford, Mass.

"I definitely am seeing more international business this year, and the No. 1 reason is that unlike domestic air ticket prices, international fares are not as high as they have been," he said. "For example, Ireland is very hot this year, and you can get roundtrip air for about $900. In past years, that would've cost up to $1,300.

"Also, we're seeing more people doing Europe river cruises, and even though those ships don't hold a lot of people, there has been a good push toward those cruises, and that's part of the increase, I think."

Garavanian, who is president of ASTA's New England Chapter, also pointed to the "extremely strong" dollar this year, coupled with good deals offered by suppliers. He cited cruise lines in particular for helping to buoy international volume.

"There is a lot of value out there now," he said. "We recently booked 12 cabins on a Greece cruise, and clients paid $2,400 per couple for a balcony cabin on a seven-night sailing. A few years ago, that same cabin would've been about $3,300."

There is some anxiety about international travel, he added, and while most of his clients are avoiding the Middle East and some the Eastern Mediterranean, they still are heading to destinations where they feel secure.

"People feel safe in Rome, for instance. I don't know if it's because the Vatican is there," he joked.

Michael Greenwald, president of Oakland Park, Fla.-based Personalized Travel, said his business tends to be about 85% international, and he is seeing customers taking more trips.

"If they took a spring trip, this year they're also doing a fall trip," Greenwald said of his clients, who are all upmarket travelers. "They are more comfortable with the economy."

While international trips are increasing this year, the survey also found that trips with an air component are falling. Last year, 39% of trips had an air component. This year, it dropped to 30%, a hefty 25% dip. Garavanian attributed the drop to domestic travel and said the airlines are to blame.

"The airlines have done this to themselves," he declared. "I'm surprised it's not down farther. People are frustrated with the way airlines treat them. I've had customers drive from Boston to Florida to get on a cruise ship rather than get on a plane."

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