Travel agents weigh in on options

Ed Mass, owner of Expedia Cruise Ship Centers in Port Charlotte, said his agency is having the best summer ever.

“People are making decisions (about their travel) and taking advantage of them,” Mass said. “We booked thousands this summer, and we offer our own travel packages with air, land and sea.”

About 70 percent of Floridians plan to take a vacation of four or more days between May to September, according to a May report from the AAA Auto Club Group, a 5 percentage-point increase from 2012.

“This year marks the second year that AAA data shows an increase in the number of Floridians who plan to take a summer vacation — a positive sign for the travel industry,” Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA Travel, The Auto Club Group, said in a statement. “A relaxing vacation at a city destination or beach is the number one desire among Florida travelers who look to get away this summer. The great thing about Florida is that travelers don’t have to go far to find what they’re looking for in a vacation.”

Mass, who’s been in the travel agency business since 1973, said little has changed in the industry.

“The reason why travel is so strong is because prices have remained steady over the past 10 years,” he said.

Mass said Expedia’s clientele spans into places like Englewood and North Port.

“People in Port Charlotte tend to be well-traveled for the summer,” he said. “They usually want to get out of the heat. We have family packages, and we have a working relationship with Disney and we can book trips to Disneyland and their cruise lines. We also book a lot of trips involving family reunions and tour groups, which are popular with the elderly.”

Mass said the most popular destinations his clients book are cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska and the Panama Canal.

Edie Driest, owner of It’s Time to Travel in North Port, said her clients aren’t comfortable booking online.

“Shopping around takes a lot of time, and that’s where I come in,” Driest said. “I spent a lot of time doing research. The majority of my clients I book tend to go to more remote locations.”

Driest, who’s been serving the North Port area since 2005, has been in the travel industry for more than 30 years.

“I see the same amount of traffic this year as last year,” she said. “I sense people are traveling a lot less since the economy took a dive. The nature of vacation is different than it used to be, and travelers are more budget-minded.”

Driest said the most popular destinations she receives are to Italy, Hawaii and cruises to the Caribbean.

“It’s healthy to get out of Dodge,” she said. “It clears your mind and recharges your soul.”

Lorna Hunter, owner of Creative Travel in Englewood, said she’s seeing residents opting to do “staycations” at or near home.

“I see about 15 percent of my clients want to enjoy the local amenities and travel to Sarasota, Lido Key or Siesta Key,” Hunter said. “A lot of them can’t afford to do a cruise or go far out of state like Alaska or the Grand Canyon.”

Hunter said some will travel within the state to do packages at theme parks like Disney World or Busch Gardens.

“There are probably 20 (percent) to 30 percent who go to Disney, even if it’s a weekend package,” she said.

Hunter said locals take advantage of Disney’s discount for Florida residents.

“We’ll have some people (who) will go spend a week up North,” she said. “Most of their families will come down here. We get a couple hundred or more clients (coming) here all summer long.”

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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