Cold, snow spur central Ohioans to warm-climate vacations

Steve Wartenberg, The Columbus Dispatch
The beaches of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic are popular with travelers looking to escape Ohio's winter weather.

February 17, 2015

When the thermometer drops and the snow falls, many central Ohio residents with cabin fever begin dreaming about - and booking - vacations to warmer destinations.

About 10,000 people attended last month's Great Vacations Travel Expo, organized by the AAA Ohio Auto Club, and hundreds made reservations with the AAA travel agents on site.

"We saw a 25 percent increase in the number of vacations booked at this year's show compared to last year," said AAA Ohio spokeswoman Kimberly Schwind.

All these travelers yearned for islands and beaches, ocean and river cruises, trips to Florida and Europe and scenic adventures within driving distance, according to AAA Ohio.

"The travel industry took a huge hit from the recession ... but we finally started to see a significant jump in November for Thanksgiving travelers and in December for holiday travelers," Schwind said.

December holiday travel was estimated to be up 4 percent nationally to 98.6 million people and 5 percent among Ohioans to 3.8 million compared with the previous year, according to AAA. The reasons included the improved economy and more disposable income thanks to lower gasoline prices.

About 150 travel vendors had displays at the Great Vacations Travel Expo, including Pleasant Holidays, Travel Impression, Royal Caribbean International and Viking River Cruises.

Booths touting all-inclusive vacations to resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico were popular with those attending.

"The entrance of Vacation Express and its seasonal charter departures from Port Columbus to Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) and Cancun (Mexico) have been a lift," said Ike Reynolds of Reynolds Travel.

Cruises continue to be popular. The top destination is the Caribbean, followed by Alaska, Canada/New England and Europe, according to AAA Ohio.

"And many of the more seasoned travelers are looking for new cruise options, and river cruises in Europe are on the rise," Schwind said. Many of the river-cruise companies are adding ships and tour dates, she said.

Orlando is another popular destination, as vacations to Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort remain must-go destinations for many local families.

For those who want to remain in Ohio, the state parks and Hocking Hills top the list, according to AAA Ohio. The majority of people who booked trips to these scenic locations during the travel expo will travel there in the next three months.

Europe is growing in popularity as a travel destination, despite the lack of a direct European flight from Port Columbus. Rome, Paris and London are the top destinations, according to AAA Ohio.

Reynolds has seen the same trend among his clients.

"Europe is strong, but the drawback is airfares remain high, and there's nothing on the horizon to suggest they'll go down."

However, the silver lining is the strength of the dollar.

"Most people don't realize this," Reynolds said. "They only think of the price of their (airfare and hotel) package and don't focus on, 'Hey, everything I buy over there will be cheaper.'??"

swartenberg@dispatch.com

@stevewartenberg