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Travelers looking for value, good food

By MICHELLE GROENKE   |   May 20, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

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CHICAGO, May 20 (UPI) -- Gas prices aren't expected to keep U.S. travelers home this summer but families are keeping an eye on their budgets and placing a value on amenities, travel experts say.

Priceline.com says hotel booking requests suggest Las Vegas, Chicago and New York City are the top destinations for travelers this Memorial Day weekend.

Priceline attributes the picks to the availability of lower cost airfares to those cities.

AAA says many travelers are opting to drive instead, projecting 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, an increase of 1.2 percent from last year.

"The overall domestic economic picture continues to improve slightly, however, American consumers faced a new challenge this year as steadily increasing gas prices throughout the spring significantly squeezed many household budgets," AAA President and Chief Executive Officer Robert L. Darbelnet said last week in a statement.

He said many travelers will compensate for reduced travel budgets by staying closer to home and cutting entertainment spending.

Approximately 30.7 million people plan to drive to their destination, up 1.2 percent from last year.

A survey by the consulting firm Deloitte found more than half of respondents, 54 percent, said rising gas prices will not affect their travel plans, compared to the 41 percent who indicated the same in 2011.

Prices at the pump, however, have a bigger impact on households with smaller incomes. Twenty-five percent of respondents with household incomes of less than $99,000 said they would cancel their summer trips if gas prices increased by $1. Only 11 percent of those earning more than $100,000 per year said they would cancel their trips if faced with the same fuel increase.

Value-conscious consumers will likely be looking for more in services and added amenities, including complimentary breakfast, free wireless internet access and free parking, Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman and global leader of Deloitte's travel, hospitality and leisure sector, said in a release.

Families hitting the road have more to look forward to this year than the ubiquitous chicken fingers on children's menus as restaurants and hotels get savvy about attracting a generation of young foodies who have been weaned on Food Network.

"Generally, Americans' palates are becoming more sophisticated and adventurous, and kids are no different," Annika Stensson of the National Restaurant Association told UPI. "While traditional kid favorites like chicken fingers and pizza are still there, we're starting to see a wider variety of options for kids on restaurant menus nationwide, including ethnic cuisines and flavors."

Stensson said parents may also want to consider ordering off the adult appetizer menu for their children or sharing adult entrees.

The National Restaurant Association's Kids Live Well program offers a Web site, www.healthydiningfinder.com, that parents can use to search for restaurants that provide healthy kid-friendly food options. Burger King is on there but fast-casual and casual dining spots such as Joe's Crab Shack and Tony Roma's outnumber fast food restaurants on the site. A growing number of local restaurants, such as Miami's Sushi Maki, the Copper Door in Bedford, N.H., and Edina Grill in Minnesota's Twin Cities, are also represented.

There is a Kids LiveWell app for finding healthy restaurants on the go, Stensson said.

Hotel chains are doing their part to make it easier for their kids to make healthy food choices, with luxury hoteliers such as Hyatt and Fairmont revamping their children's menus.

Fairmont Hotels says hotel chefs from Singapore to Sonoma, Calif., are ramping up their menus to give a lift to their hotel dining rooms.

New children's menu options offer a healthy twist on chicken strips, pizza, spaghetti with meatballs and chocolate mousse. Young foodies looking for something more exciting can choose offerings such as Loch Duart Salmon with Glazed Vegetables at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa or Chicken Quesadillas with Corn Tortillas and Oaxaca Cheese at Fairmont Mayakoba.

Children 12 and younger can order child-sized portions from the adult menu if their looking for something a little more grown-up, the luxury hotel chain said.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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