Columbia travel not as hard hit as nation, agents say

Thursday, October 30, 2008 | 6:31 p.m. CDT; updated 11:01 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 11, 2009

COLUMBIA — The average American's economic stiffness hasn't taken its toll on Columbia travel — at least not for those who are planning ahead, said Roy Shelby of Great Southern Travel in Columbia.

"You think the discretionary dollar would be the first to go," Shelby said, but he pointed out that this isn't always the case.

People are not stopping their travel plans altogether, Shelby said.

This has partly to do with Columbia's relatively stable economy, he said. The university and local health centers have kept the economy afloat.

"It's not hitting us as hard as its hitting people on the coast," Shelby said.

The travel agency at 1400 Forum Blvd. has felt some effects from the economic turmoil, but might actually be able to capitalize on the bargains now available. 

The current economy might have even emphasized the need for travel agencies these days, said Paula Thomas, an agent at Great Southern Travel's agency downtown. Airfare prices go up and down with each day, she said.

"We know how the airlines work and can get cheaper prices," Thomas said.

What Great Southern Travel has seen are changes. People are editing their travel plans, whether it is through budgeting, advance planning or destination changes.

Luxury and family travel are all still there, Shelby said. "People are just budgeting ahead for it, and looking farther in advance."

Shelby is also seeing more local travel.

"People are willing to drive for a two-night getaway in St. Louis, Boonville or Lake of the Ozarks," Shelby said.

This month's fall in gas prices is still too recent to have an impact, he said. Despite fuel spikes, customers have chosen to drive to closer destination spots throughout this past year because of driving's efficiency and ability for quality family time. 

Both agents said now is the time for bargain traveling. Discounts, Shelby said, are available everywhere.

"There are great fares on cruises and all-inclusive packages before the end of the year," Shelby said. When organizing packages for people, he said he has found more bargains than usual,  naming destinations such as Jamaica, Mexico, Riviera Maya and Cancun.

Development in these hot spots has been on the rise, but with the poor economy, hotels fill up more slowly, Shelby said.

He said his customers are taking spots from those on both coasts who aren't traveling.

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