Deals aim to increase travel, tourism

Bumpy economy drops plane fares, hotel room rates to lowest point in years

Flight Attendant Sandra Graham rides the escalator to the security check-in at Grand Junction Regional Airport as she arrives for work with Mesa Airlines

Want to fly from Grand Junction to Hawaii? That’ll be $560 round trip.

Prefer London? Prices are only $710 if you book now for July.

Prices are the lowest they’ve been in years for some prime vacation destinations, thanks to fewer people opting to take summer vacations in a bumpy economy and more people choosing to drive if they venture out.

Grand Junction Regional Airport Manager Rex Tippetts said those looking to take advantage of cheap flights can likely buy tickets for 40 percent less than they would have paid last summer.

“I know last year at this time I was paying $450 to $600, and now I’m paying $250 to $300” for flights around the country,” Tippetts said.

The Air Transport Association predicts a 7 percent drop in passenger counts
June 1 through August 31. It costs as much to fly a full airplane as it does to fly an empty one, so airlines are more willing to drop ticket prices this summer, Tippetts said.

“Airfares in and out of Grand Junction are probably the best they’ve been in 15 years,” he said.

Frontier Airlines has flights from here to Denver selling for $59 and is offering connecting flights to numerous Western and Midwest cities for an additional $59 to $79.

Allegiant flights from Grand Junction to Los Angeles cost $38 round trip, and its flights to Las Vegas are $38 to $78.

Once a local connects to Phoenix on U.S. Airways, deals from Arizona to various U.S. cities cost from $72 for a flight to San Diego to $154 for Boston.

Grand Junction Regional Airport providers Delta, United and American Airlines also are offering deals.

Hotels are reducing their rates, too.

The Grand Junction Holiday Inn will become Clarion Inn today and will start offering $50 gift cards for guests staying three nights or more.

The Courtyard by Marriott has packages with golf courses and Bananas Fun Park.

Discounts during every week except Country Jam’s weekend will be offered at America’s Best Value Inn.

“We’re definitely this year a lot more flexible with rates than we were last year,” said Tyler Watts, a Grand Junction Courtyard by Marriott sales employee.

Lodging tax collections, which are based on hotel occupancy and daily room rates, dropped 15.1 percent in April this year compared to April 2008.

But those numbers don’t necessarily reflect a drastic drop in tourists. According to numerous local hoteliers, a large number of rooms have opened up since oil and gas production began to slow late last year.

After some rigs stopped operating, fewer energy company employees were around to fill local hotels.

“Since about last November/December a lot of business went away,” Holiday Inn General Manager Lynne Sorlye said.

Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau Division Manager Barb Bowman said local tourism can’t match record visitor numbers from last year. But she predicts word of mouth in the region and across the globe will keep the travel industry afloat.

Colorado’s tour representative in Germany told Bowman 18 of the 20 German tour operators he surveyed recently are pushing Grand Junction as a one- or two-night destination for European clients.

“Ten years ago, we would have had one or two” tour operators mentioning the Grand Valley, Bowman said.

Germans, Brits and the French are the top three foreign visitors to Grand Junction, Bowman said. At an international travel industry conference May 16-20 in Miami,

Bowman met with 60 tour guides, focusing especially on Scandinavians and the Dutch, who come from countries where the economy hasn’t slumped quite as much as it has in other areas.

Bowman also expects Americans to venture to the Western Slope. She learned at the conference that more people are looking for in-state vacations and those traveling out-of-state are looking for “smaller, more affordable destinations.”

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Bowman said.


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