advertisement

Winter-weary Americans plead: Get me out of here

Friday, February 28, 2014 | 5:23 p.m. CST
A fiberglass mannequin atop a taxi in Philadelphia promotes the warmth of Florida as winter rolls on in the northern parts of the country with the return of yet another polar-vortex-like storm system.

CHICAGO — Shannon Frauenholtz has had it with winter. Barely able to stomach the television news with its images of snowbound cars, she heads to the tanning salon, closes her eyes and imagines she's back in Mexico, where she's already vacationed once this winter.

She's toyed with the idea of joining her mother in Hawaii or just driving to an indoor water park, figuring that while the palm trees might be plastic and the "beach" smells of chlorine, at least it's warm.

"I don't need a vacation. I don't need the relaxation," said Frauenholtz, of New Ulm, Minn. "I just need the heat."

All over the Midwest and the East Coast, travel agents are being inundated with a simple request: Get me out of here. And travelers fortunate enough to have escaped are begging hotels to let them stay a little longer.

Because they know how miserable people are, warm-weather destinations in California, Arizona and Florida have stepped up their enticements. Trains and billboards in Chicago have been plastered with ads showing beaches and pool scenes. In Philadelphia, one promoter put fiberglass mannequins dressed in flip-flops, tank tops and shorts atop taxis with their arms outstretched — a whimsical inducement to "fly" south.

"This year we wanted to have a little more fun with it," said Susannah Costello of Visit Florida, the state's official marketing organization, which came up with the mannequin idea.

The ads showing children and women making snow angels in warm beach sand are more plentiful than in years past, acknowledged Erin Duggan of Visit Sarasota County.

"We did that because we knew winter was shaping up to be brutal," she said.

Another assault of bad weather is expected over the weekend, with forecasts for at least 6 inches of snow through Monday in a 1,500-mile stretch from Kansas to the East Coast. Parts of the Northeast could see a foot or more.

Just how many more people are trying to get out of the ice box is unclear. Airlines do not release any route-specific data. And although the government tracks some of it, figures will not be released for six months.

But other travel statistics suggest there has been a jump. Travel site Jetsetter.com found that the number of hotel bookings in warm-weather spots made by customers from Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and the Washington, D.C., area rose 7 percent in January compared with last year.

Visit Florida says hotel bookings in the state rose 3 percent in the four weeks ending Feb. 15 compared with the same period last year. And the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reports that RV parks from Florida to Arizona are packed, with one Arizona park expecting a 6 percent increase in revenue over last year.

Travelers are also staying longer once they arrive, such as Dave Knieriemen, a retired engineer from Fremont, Ohio.

"We've reserved a room for another night in case our flight gets canceled because of the weather," he said this week from Arizona as he watched the Cleveland Indians play a spring training game. "And it's so horrible (in Ohio) we might stay a bit longer, anyway."

Travel agents say the numbers of travelers would be even higher if all those who wanted to get away could find a seat on jets that are already full.

"It's far easier to find people a resort to stay in or a cruise ship than to find them a flight," said Gail Weinholzer of American Automobile Association in Minnesota.

The inability to find a flight, afford a trip or get time off from work has sent a surge of customers to businesses at home that can offer even a short escape from the cold, such as tanning salons.

"We're getting a lot of people coming in here to warm up," said Kirstin Leffew, the manager of Bronze Bay Tanning Center in Pendleton, Ind. "They want the beds that have been used the most, the ones that are nice and hot."

Indoor water parks say they are busier than usual, too. Joe Eck, general manager of the Wilderness Resort in the Wisconsin Dells, said business is up 10 to 15 percent because of the bitter cold.

Among those who decided to go to the Wilderness — which has real palm trees, the resort will remind you — were Jennifer Drost and her family.

"Our kids are young enough where they still enjoy playing outside, but they haven't been able to because it was so darn cold," said Drost, who lives with her husband and three children in Fond du Lac, Wis. "All of us were getting on each other's nerves, (and) we just needed to get out of the house."

Associated Press writer M.L. Johnson in Milwaukee contributed to this report.


Like what you see here? Become a member.


Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Comments

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.

advertisements