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Summer's Start Signals Rise in Tourism

Wednesday marked the first day of summer across the northern half of the planet. It is a time when many children are released from school and families pack up for road trips to parks, beaches, and other resort locations.

Gasoline prices are averaging close to $3 per gallon in several U.S. cities, higher than Americans are used to at this time of year. But that alone is unlikely to keep millions of Americans from hitting the roads this summer, says Mike Pina of the American Automobile Association.

"People always say in surveys that they are not going to travel because of high gas prices, but the truth is, cars are the least expensive way for people to get where they want."

Pina says Americans are often willing to absorb higher fuel prices and related costs at this time of year because summer holiday travel is so deeply ingrained in American life. "What we notice is that people will continue their vacations but they are going to spend less money in hotels and they are going to be eating in cheaper restaurants. Some say they will still travel … but stay closer to home."

Laurie Ward says she has made adjustments in her plans. "I have postponed some of my plans because of the increasing gas prices. I am not going to cancel altogether, I am going to do something but I may decide a little closer…"

The Travel Industry Association of America says that from June through August Americans will take around 325 million automobile trips of more than 80 kilometers from their home. Then there is international air travel, which starts picking up at this time of year as well. Some experts suggest 2006 may see even more of it than in recent years.

Pina says there is an increase in tourism overseas. "That is the real story. We are seeing about an 18 percent increase in the number of Americans traveling overseas."

The European Travel Commission anticipates a record number of American tourists in Europe this summer -- about a half million more than the 13.5-million who traveled there in 2000.

Pina says there will be a huge number of international travelers coming to the U.S. "I think you are going to see more than 50 million foreign visitors visit the United States this summer."

The summer international travel numbers could be the biggest since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, which resulted in a pronounced falloff in Americans traveling abroad, and in foreign visitors coming to the U.S.