ASTA CEO Sees Consumer Value in Travel

"The last year was miserable, probably one of the worst for the travel industry," said William Maloney, CEO of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the world's largest association of travel professionals in an interview with Reuters."Airlines, hotels, tours, cruise lines. Everyone saw a downturn in revenue."

“But while the recession lingers, Maloney says, consumers can clean up in luxury deals. "We can't predict the rate of recovery," he explained. "But we're confident that in the first six months there will remain extraordinary values."

"Prices have never been better," Maloney told Reuters. "Ordinary people now have access to luxury accommodations and inexpensive vacations."

A one-two-three-four punch sent the travel industry reeling in 2009, according to Maloney.  “First, (it was) the $4 per gallon gasoline increase, followed by the first round of what was then swine (H1N1) flu," he said."Third was the stock market crash and fourth was what we call 'the AIG effect," said Maloney, referring to disclosures that executives of American International Group enjoyed lavish junkets even as their company received an $85 billion-dollar taxpayer bailout.

"That really hurt the luxury end of the business," said Maloney, "Traveling by corporations became almost unpatriotic. Having a meeting in Las Vegas or Miami was seen as privileged and anti-social behavior." Corporate travel accounts for one-third of business in the United States.

Maloney said Las Vegas, Florida, Hawaii and New York have been and still are the most popular vacation spots for Americans but travelers are buying their tickets at the last minute. "Lead times used to be months and weeks, now it could be days," he explained to Reuters, with low prices luring more first-time cruisers.

"They used to say cruising was for 'the newlywed and nearly dead.' Now it's a family vacation." All-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, Cancun and Jamaica are also on the increase. Meals, and even beverages, are included and people like that, according to Maloney.

Maloney said he  is pleased that social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, are becoming platforms for sharing travel advice and suggestions. Despite the Internet revolution he said only about half of travel business is booked online.

 Maloney is confident about the future: "Travel is a desirable commodity. If you stood on a street corner with a coat and offered it to passersby, 90 percent of them would pass it up. But if you stood there with an airline ticket ...”