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Budget Conscious Tourism Holding Steady - 2002-07-06

North American students are out of school and the first summer travel season after September's terrorist attacks is getting under way. While airlines and the tourism industry are reporting a decrease in travel, business from budget-conscious travelers seems to be holding steady.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the global demand for travel and tourism in 2002 is estimated to be worth over $4 trillion, a decrease of 1.3 percent from 2001. And for many tourist destinations, the months of July and August can make or break a region's overall tourism profit for the year.

Writer, TV host, and travel guide Rick Steves has been promoting travel for over 25 years from his home in Washington state. He says there are two major problems currently facing the travel industry: money and post-September 11 safety concerns. "So there's kind of a two-prong concern here about how is travel going to be this next year," he says. "There's the uncertainty caused by the terrorism. And there's just the financial concerns brought on by a recession."

But, there is one sector of the travel industry that remains relatively untouched by terrorism concerns and recession. That's the budget traveler, Mr. Steves' main audience. Long-time readers of his book, Europe Through the Back Door , and viewers of his long-running TV show on American public television, are accustomed to traveling the world on the cheap with minimal luggage.

Mr. Steve's believes that this portion of the travel industry will perform well this year. Last year, statistics from the World Tourism Organization show that worldwide travel was down 2.6 percent in 2001 over the previous year. That was partly due to the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Aaron Naiman, a general manager of the Downtown Vancouver Hostel for Hostelling International, a budget residence for visitors to Canada's West Coast, says that business seems to be steady despite terrorist threats.

He says young travelers in hostels are usually on the road for long periods and are less concerned about terrorism than those who spend more money for travel. "Our business has remained relatively immune from some of the malaise that's hit the rest of the tourism industry in British Columbia," he says. "I think that's because of the nature of the traveler whom we accommodate. We tend to accommodate people who are on a much longer trip than someone who would, for instance, be staying at a top end hotel in Vancouver. People, I think, are less likely to cancel their trips because of security concerns when they're planning on doing, lets say - a six month backpacking trip or around the world ticket."

Mr. Steve's echoes that sentiment. In fact, he encourages travelers to embark on European adventures. "This year no kids are going to Europe with their school groups because all the parents are freaked out because of the risk of terrorism. Last year, in the year 2001, 12 million Americans went to Europe," he says. "None were victimized by terrorists. Not one. That's a good rate. So far this year it's the same."

In the kitchen of the Downtown Vancouver hostel, 28-year-old Lynn Edwards, of Surrey, England, is preparing a supper of salad, vegetarian hotdogs, and a bagel.

After arriving in New York and crossing Canada by train, she feels that the increased security after September 11 is long overdue.

While she is avoiding taking domestic flights within the United States, she says that her daily safety from robbery and assault is of more concern than the being a victim of terrorism. She says the problems of Northern Ireland make terrorism a reality in her own country. "Yeah, I don't feel personally any more at risk than I would have before. I think, possibly being from where I am in England, in the very, very back of your mind there's always the IRA (Irish Republican Army) to think about," she says. "But, you don't think about it everyday. It doesn't change your routes and everything, but it's something that's there. But no, I don't think I feel any less safe from what I would have beforehand really. Your concerns are more on a day-to-day basis with you walking down the street rather than being the victim of a bombing attack or something like that."

To help entice more budget-conscious travelers, Hostelling International is embarking on post September 11 marketing program. U.S. hostels, which report a more severe decrease than its Canadian counterparts, are targeting travel agents and tour groups. They are also promoting package deals, with all-inclusive vacations that give free access to museums, tours and sporting events.