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TORONTO - Higher gas prices aren't expected to keep travelers off the roads this summer, but rather than find last minute deals, travelers should book early and expect airlines, hotels and car rental brands to offer bonuses, such as upgrades or rewards points; according to travel executives at Best Western International, CAA and the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) at the sixth annual Leisure Travel Summit in Toronto hosted in late May.
Given the improved economy and increased consumer optimism, pent-up demand for leisure travel has led to an increase of six to 11 percent in advance reservations to Canadian hotels during the peak summer months.
"Those who have had to forgo a vacation in recent years are now putting travel back on their 'must-do' lists for this summer, which we believe will translate to a strong summer for our Member hoteliers," said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Best Western.
Despite an increase in gas prices, up 27 cents per litre compared to last year, panelists are not concerned that the increase will dissuade people from traveling. Glen MacDonell, director of AAA Travel Services and representing CAA, indicated that the higher cost, which equates to $30 CAD more for a trip of 1,200 kilometres, will not have a substantial impact on vacation plans.
"Although travelers do want to spend less overall on planned vacations, 60 percent of those we surveyed earlier this year said gas prices ultimately wouldn't affect their decision to travel," said MacDonell. "However, some travelers plan to cut spending on activities, such as shopping for souvenirs, bar drinks or pricey tourist attractions."
Tony Pollard, president of the HAC agrees that Canadians will continue to make vacation plans, saying that, "Canadians consider it their given right to travel."
Rather than promote last-minute deals during the peak summer season, airlines, rental car brands and hotels are more likely to offer extras or value-added promotions rather than heavily discounted rates or fares as they did last summer. Panelists agreed that for the deal-savvy Canadian traveller, one of the most important things when booking travel is cost transparency.
"Canadians are smart, and when it hits their pockets they know it. Whatever they plan to spend on a trip, they want to know exactly what they'll be getting," said Pollard.
Travellers should do their homework to find out what extras are specifically included in their daily rate including Wi-Fi and parking, or if additional fees will be added to their bill at the end of their stay. They will find that more frequently they're offered things they normally wouldn't as part of the quoted price, such as bonus miles or rewards points. Offering these types of amenities as part of the quoted price is something that travellers can rely on from Best Western, Dowling claims.
"We position ourselves as a value provider in the market. By providing customers all-inclusive pricing what they were quoted is what they pay, and there's no sticker shock at check-out. Adding value through promotions and our Best Western Rewards program always means a win for the customer," said Dowling.
Pollard agreed that hotel reward programs are becoming increasingly valuable to the Canadian consumer, citing results from a recent HAC survey.
"In 2006, 19 percent of Canadians said a hotel rewards program is important for leisure travel," he said. "Now, 38 percent of Canadians say rewards programs are absolutely critical."
According to Dowling, Canada represents ten percent of participants in the Best Western Rewards program, which consists of 12 million members globally.
"Canadians have always been sophisticated when it comes to maximizing value," said Dowling. "Travellers today want to be recognized for their patronage, and we're continuously enriching our offers, as we are committed to giving back to those who are loyal to Best Western."