US travellers not deterred by weak dollar

Despite headaches caused by regulations that went into effect in 2007 requiring passports for air travelers returning to the U.S. from Canada , Mexico , and the Caribbean, the new restrictions may have had some positive side effects. According to a recent poll conducted by Travelocity gauging consumers’ travel plans for 2008, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) has actually inspired many to visit these regions and beyond. Of respondents who obtained their passport for the first time in 2007, 66 percent traveled internationally, and 30 percent traveled beyond the regions included in the WHTI.

With 10.3 million passports issued in the first eight months of 2007 (according to the Department of State) - a 37 percent increase over the same period in 2006 - it’s no surprise travelers who may have otherwise chosen to stay stateside instead traveled overseas. Not even a weak dollar and uncertain economy will impede these eager jet setters, as 90 percent of survey respondents said they plan to travel internationally in 2008.

“Regulations are scheduled to become tighter early next year when travelers returning to the U.S. by land AND sea will need a passport. Not only is this likely to result in more passports being issued in 2008, but it will open even more options to vacationing Americans looking to stretch their dollar abroad,” said Amy Ziff, Travelocity’s editor-at-large. “The up-tick in international travel may continue as a whole new group of consumers begins to explore beyond domestic vacations.”

Consumers responded in stride to other changes impacting the travel environment as well, be it high prices or chronic delays. The majority of travelers (65 percent) are willing to sacrifice more flight choices if it means fewer delays - and with the recent news of flight caps at two New York-area airports scheduled to take place in March, that theoretical sacrifice is about to become a reality. Travelers also are a bit wiser from the challenges faced in 2007. This year, almost half of travelers will try and avoid connecting flights at all costs; one in six said they would alter the times of day they typically fly ; and 15 percent would consider booking through smaller airports to try to minimize problems.

Other trends of note include everything from a renewed focus on eco-friendly travel to an emphasis on what Travelocity’s editors have coined “Fit Travel” in 2008.