Backpack

Time travellers

A monthly report on personal health, life and leisure

JAMES DEACON February 20 1995
Backpack

Time travellers

A monthly report on personal health, life and leisure

JAMES DEACON February 20 1995

Time travellers

Backpack

A monthly report on personal health, life and leisure

GETAWAYS

Beyond death, taxes and Saturday night hockey, the closest thing to an absolute in winter is the urge to get away. Sensory-deprived by too few daylight hours and too much time spent indoors, cabin-feverish Canadians daydream of sandy beaches, palm trees and tropical drinks by the pool. The condition fuels the annual southbound migration that turns Florida into Canada’s eleventh province for six months of every year. It is also why the inhabitants of distant Caribbean islands and Mexican resort towns manage to memorize the exchange rate for loonies even if they do not have the slightest idea where—or what—Edmonton is. And, of course, it is why winter has traditionally been the most profitable time of year for Canada’s travel industry.

These days, however, there seem to be more reasons to stay at home than to get away. Middle-class incomes have remained frozen or in some cases declined, Ottawa is hinting darkly at possible tax hikes and the once proud Canadian dollar is doing a fine impersonation of the peso. Then again, even if money is not the problem, who has the time? Two hectic careers and kids in school frequently add up to No Way Out.

The answer, as more and more Canadians are discovering, is often to scale down their concept of vacation by slipping away for three or four days rather than a week or two. The expanding market for short getaways is a key reason why travel agents in most parts of the country reported brisk business in the early weeks of the new year— typically, a slow period for the industry. “It is a lifestyle decision,” says Bryan Wolfenden, corporate communications manager for Canadian Holidays. “A lot of people just don’t have the time to take the oneand twoweek holidays that they used to take.”

The popularity of short-term holidays, agents say, has blossomed in the cost-conscious 1990s. “Since the start of the last recession,” Wolfenden says, “the travel industry has changed dramatically. The cost of vacations has become more of an issue with people.” For now, at least, the drop in the value of the Canadian dollar is somewhat mitigated by the fact that most tour operators’ package prices have been locked in since last summer. As well, the miserable plunge of the peso has opened up some inexpensive possibilities in Mexico. Whatever the reason, Canadians are finding ways to travel: Wolfenden says that Canadian Holidays’ advance bookings in January were up 15 per cent over the previous year.

Cost, however, is not necessarily the quickie holiday’s main attraction. An extended weekend in the sun is the compromise of choice for many would-be travellers for whom family or career responsibilities get in the way of getting away. John Dale, a Toronto stockbroker and married father of two, goes diving in the Bahamas for at least one long weekend each year. “For me,” Dale says, “the shorter trip works because I’m back before anyone misses me.” In two-career households, the problem is often co-ordinating holiday times. Again, it is generally easier to take off a day on either side of a weekend than to find a free week. Harry French, director of the Canadian Tourism Research Institute, says that the getaway is simply an easier fit for most people’s schedules. “Our research indicates that in the next year or two, more than 50 per cent of all holiday travel will be of the shortterm variety,” French says.

There are limitations to short getaways. For obvious reason, agents contend that travellers will get more from their three or four days if they stay at resorts where recreation, restaurants and rooms are all close at hand—preferably on-site. In other words, every minute saved P is a minute of holiday gained. As well,

I faraway destinations are usually impractical for trips of less than a week. That means travellers from Eastern Canada should aim for the southeastern United States, the Bahamas, Bermuda and, to a Ü lesser extent, northern Caribbean is-

I lands such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. From Western Canada, the most popular targets are the U.S. southwest, California and Mexico.

While there is only so far people can go, there is virtually no restriction on what they can do. Tour operators who work this rich travel vein can pick up their customers on a Thursday mornjA ing, plunk them down on a golf course ■ or at a spa by midday, and keep them busy until they jet home Sunday night.

The perfect getaway

Even brief vacations require good planning.

The three hard-and-fast rules of the quickie holiday:

• Choose a destination that is, at most, a three-hour flight from home. The shorter the trip, the sooner the fun begins.

• Make sure that all amenities are close at hand. With only three or four days to spare, it is important not to waste time shuttling between the hotel and the golf course or beach.

• Travellers to the United States can still ease some of the exchange-rate pain by booking package deals through Canadian tour operators.

Companies that cater to recreation-oriented travellers have tended to benefit most from the increase in short-term vacations. Travellers who like to sightsee and explore new areas generally book longer trips, agents say. And those looking for total relaxation demand at least two weeks. But for someone who simply wants to spend every waking hour playing golf or scuba diving, a long weekend is just fine. Ed Tovey, president of Toronto-based Golf Holidays, Canada’s largest tour operator specializing in golf, says that short-term trips now account for 60 per cent of his business. “The threeand four-night trip has become the norm,” says Tovey.

The burgeoning demand for weekend getaways has caught the attention of major resorts. Sandals, a Jamaican company that operates 10 all-inclusive Caribbean resorts, now offers threeand four-night stays at some of its beachside locations. And Florida’s Disney World, traditionally synonymous with family vacations, has begun to direct its advertising at couples as well. The sprawling Orlando resort is bidding to attract baby boomers who might welcome the chance to leave the kids at home for an unfettered weekend at the theme parks, golf courses, tennis courts and other on-site facilities. Among its amenities, the resort now boasts a Planet Hollywood restaurant at Pleasure Island, a collection of bars, nightclubs and comedy spots geared specifically to adults. ‘We believe that we now offer something for everyone,” says Tim Ramey, marketing manager of Walt Disney Attractions Canada.

The trend has also spread to many of the industry’s most prestigious addresses. The Boulders, an exclusive desert retreat in the Sonoran Mountains north of Phoenix, Ariz., offers packages that look after everything from food and accommodation to recreation and restoration. Guests can eat in the renowned restaurants, luxuriate in the spa, play the resort’s two extraordinary golf courses, play tennis, go trail riding or hike through the otherworldly 1,300-acre rock-strewn setting for which the resort is named. Three-night packages, with meals, can cost as much as $3,150 per couple. In the cold light of day, that’s a lot of money. But on an even colder winter night, it might conceivably seem like a bargain.

JAMES DEACON