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June 18, 2003

Nearly 60 Percent of Americans Are Not Taking a Summer Vacation This Year - Citing Concerns Over Personal Finances

Just days before the official start of summer, 58 percent of American families say they are not taking a vacation this summer (51 percent) or have delayed their vacation plans (7 percent), primarily because of personal financial concerns, according to a nationwide Harris Interactive survey released today by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Half of all Americans surveyed say the size of their family budget for non-essential expenses is having a great deal of influence (23 percent) or a moderate influence (27 percent) on making summer vacation plans this year, more than double the concerns being cited over heightened terrorism alerts (12 percent, great deal of influence) and public health threats (11 percent, great deal of influence), such as SARS and West Nile virus. Concerns about the economy, more generally, and job security also are having only a modest influence on vacation planning (17 percent and 14 percent, respectively).

“This survey is provocative because it tells us that Americans are much more concerned about their personal financial situations than previously suspected and much less concerned about current travel deterrents such as terrorism, public health threats and the economy in general,” said Colin Campbell, chairman and president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “While we certainly wish more people were planning summer vacations, we remain hopeful that the gradually improving U.S. economy will begin to ease the burden on Americans’ financial situations.”

Looking at the issue through a top-of-mind question (open-ended vs. multiple choice), one in 10 Americans volunteers that personal finances and lack of money influence their decision on whether to take or delay a vacation this summer. Air safety and terrorism concerns follow at 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively, trailed by the 4 percent who say they are too busy to make plans.

Shorter Planning Time for Vacations

The survey also revealed that by early June, less than one quarter (23 percent) of Americans had confirmed summer vacation plans, supporting a growing trend of leisure travelers to make vacation decisions with less advance planning. “On a note of optimism, the survey may indicate that there is still time to influence vacation decisions, even as summer travel gets under way,” Campbell said.

Interest in Cultural and Historic Sites

Sixty-one percent of respondents say American historic or cultural sites are important to them when choosing a vacation destination. More than 42 percent say they are very likely (14 percent), somewhat likely (21 percent) or have already made definite plans (7 percent) to visit American historic sites such as Mount Vernon, Monticello, the Liberty Bell, Gettysburg, the Alamo, Revolutionary War sites, Civil War sites, Mount Rushmore or Colonial Williamsburg this summer.

“Clearly, there is a silver lining emerging from the sobering landscape of reality that has engulfed all of us since September 11 of 2001,” said Campbell. “A renewed sense of patriotism and national awareness has swept the country. People are feeling a greater need than ever to reconnect with their country and its history, and experience the earliest chapters of America.”

Relax, Escape and Spend Time with the Children

Of those who think American history and culture are important in choosing a vacation destination, 87 percent say that relaxation and escape also are very important or somewhat important when planning a vacation, and almost three-quarters of those say entertainment is very or somewhat important. A similar percentage finds participation in activities with their children to be an appealing part of a vacation destination.

Where Colonial Williamsburg Fits

“We commissioned this survey because, like many other travel destinations, we need to get a better sense of what Americans are thinking and doing about summer vacations this year,” said Campbell. “We were delighted to confirm that a substantial portion of the population is interested not only in visiting historic and cultural sites but also in visiting those sites that offer a combination of relaxation, escape, entertainment and family fun. Colonial Williamsburg offers all of those.”
National studies show that many of America’s youth are largely unfamiliar with their country’s history and know little about the democratic ideals and principles upon which the nation was founded. Some historians have dubbed this “historic amnesia.” “At Colonial Williamsburg, families can learn firsthand about America’s proud historic roots,” said Campbell. “Families can join together to follow the footsteps of the country’s earliest patriots, an experience that makes an indelible impression on young and old alike by helping people understand how our nation came to be and why the lessons from two centuries ago are as relevant today as they have ever been.”

Staying Close to Home

Signaling vacationers’ continuing concern about their own budgets and their growing interest in staying closer to home, 61 percent of Americans say a drive rather than fly destination is important in choosing a summer family vacation destination. “For much of the United States east of the Mississippi, from Boston, New York and Washington to Atlanta, Charleston and points south, Colonial Williamsburg fits the bill,” said Campbell.

Survey Highlights

  • 51% of Americans say they are not taking vacation this summer, 7% delayed their plans.
  • 50% say the size of their budget for non-essential expenses has a great deal of influence (23%) or a moderate influence (27%) on making summer vacation plans.
  • 61% say experiences that center on American history or culture are very important (21%) or somewhat important (40%) in making their summer plans.
  • 42% say they are already planning (7%) to visit one or more American historic sites, very likely to visit such sites (14%) or somewhat likely (21%) to visit such sites.
  • 59% say being able to participate in activities with their children is very important (47%) or somewhat important (12%) in choosing a summer vacation destination.
  • 69% say heightened concern over terrorism is having a small influence (16%) or no influence (53%) on their plans.
  • 75% say SARS, West Nile or other public health threats are having a small influence (13%) or no influence (62%) on making summer vacation plans.
  • 61% say the state of the economy is having a small influence (16%) or no influence (45%) on summer vacation plans.
  • 61% say a driving destination is very important (36%) or somewhat important (25%) in choosing a family summer vacation.
  • 58% say that last-minute deals are not very important (24%) or not at all important (34%) when choosing a family vacation destination.

    Survey Background

    The Harris Interactive Telephone Omnibus Survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,014 Americans ages 18 or older using an unrestricted Random Digit Dialing technique. The survey was conducted June 5-8, 2003, and has a margin of error of +/-3.1 percent.
    A complete report on survey results is available on the Colonial Williamsburg web site at www.ColonialWilliamsburg.org/survey.

    Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that operates the restored 18th-century capital of Virginia. Known worldwide as the nation’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg recently was recognized as the “Best Historic Site” by readers of Southern Living magazine for the seventh straight year. Colonial Williamsburg is located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information or reservations, call toll-free (800) HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at www.ColonialWilliamsburg.org. Distances to Williamsburg from other key population centers:

  • Baltimore, Md. 199 miles
  • Boston, Mass. 603 miles
  • Charlottesville, Va. 124 miles
  • Charlotte, N.C. 338 miles
  • Cleveland, Ohio 516 miles
  • New York City 390 miles
  • Philadelphia, Pa. 297 miles
  • Pittsburgh, Pa. 389 miles
  • Richmond, Va. 50 miles

    Media Contact:
    Tim Andrews
    (757) 220-7265



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