"We won't know until probably the 21st or 22nd who's going to be here," said Bob Jones, general manager of two Orlando La Quinta Inns.
"People are still booking later than they used to," said Michael Sansbury of Loews Hotels in central Florida.
The scare from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks drove travel prices down, awakening vacationers to the existence of bargains that sometimes turn up at the last moment, especially if they go online.
"The pattern of buying has changed forever," said Peter Yesavich, an Orlando marketing consultant.
Travel analyst Henry Harteveldt of Forester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said travel Web sites such as Travelocity and Expedia make it easy for travel shoppers to compare prices.
The American Automobile Association predicts that 59.1 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home over the holidays, down about 1 percent from the near-record 59.9 people who traveled during the 2001 holiday.
As many as 45.9 million travelers expect to take a trip by motor vehicle this year, about 3 percent fewer than last year's 47.4 million.
Another 11.2 million plan to go by airplane, nearly 7 percent more than the 10.5 million during the same period in 2001. The remainder are going by train, bus or some other mode of transportation.
"The most encouraging aspect of this year's travel forecast is that for the second straight holiday, Americans are returning to the skies in increasing numbers, said Sandra Hughes, vice president of travel for AAA.
Hughes also pointed out that despite the drop from last year, the projection is 4 percent higher than the 2000 Christmas-New Year's holiday season when 57.1 million took a trip.
The 2002 holiday period is expected to be the fifth heaviest traveled in the last nine years. The record is 63 million people, set in 1995.
AAA's travel projections are based on a survey of 1,300 people conducted by the Travel Industry Association.