BRIGHTENED BY MUSIC and dance, spiced with prizes, and filled with the kind of getaway ideas exhibitors hope will send you packing, Travelfest '83, the area's first major consumer travel show, opens next Saturday at the Washington Convention Center.
Nearly 100 segments of the travel industry--airlines, cruise lines, rail lines, government tourist offices, hotels, motor-coach lines, attractions and travel agents--will take part in the three-day Greater Washington Annual Travel Festival.
On Friday, Feb. 18, an invitation-only preview of the show will be held in the afternoon for members of the travel trade and their special clients. That evening, Mayor Marion Barry or a representative will officially open the program, and a preview reception for the business community and members of Congress will follow.
From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, a warm welcome will await the public--from the experienced continent-crosser in search of exciting new destinations to the hesitant first-time traveler looking for guidance and answers to basic questions. In fact, volunteers will man a special "first-time-traveler booth" and offer information about passports, customs regulations and other subjects.
For the convenience of visitors who will be able to stop by the scores of booths set up by exhibitors, pick up literature and then talk about their individual travel plans and needs, special lounges have been provided to facilitate discussions. Travelfest will make possible first-hand contact with representatives of a variety of travel services in one downtown location.
Even Iron Curtain countries, no strangers to the capitalistic business that provides them with needed "hard" currency (while making possible people-to-people encounters if governments permit it), will promote their wares--the Soviet Union's Intourist will be there along with Malev/Ibusz Presents Hungary and Orbis Polish Travel Bureau.
Among prizes to be awarded at drawings are a trip to London, a Windjammer cruise, a fly-drive package to Ireland, and a cruise on the Nile.
A program of regional and ethnic music and dances will be presented at various times on Saturday and Sunday.
Admission to the show is $4.50 for adults, $3 for children 12 and under. Discount coupons worth $2 off the price of a ticket are available this week at Woodward & Lothrop with purchases in the jewelry and cosmetics departments.
Despite the continuing economic crunch and layoffs, the Washington area so far has been hurt less than many other sections of the country. It remains an important travel market due to the high income and educational level of its residents who receive good vacation benefits, the federal government connection, and geographic location.
But even in the best of times, when many Americans normally have more discretionary dollars to spend and are not delaying some vacation plans or limiting certain trips to closer-to-home destinations, as at present, the travel industry has been faced with a persistent challenge to its sales ingenuity:
About 68 percent of adult U.S. residents spent one or more nights at least 100 miles from home in 1981, according to the U.S. Travel Data Center, but Department of Commerce figures show that less than 5 percent of Americans took an overseas trip last year (not including visitors to Canada and Mexico). And only 3 percent of the total U.S. and Canadian population have ever gone on a cruise. So rather than fight among themselves for the same piece of pie, the industry is seeking to find a way to get a more realistic share of the profits by enlarging the market--and that means enticing more Americans to travel.
One way, of course, is to offer more economical air fares and packages--most hard-pressed tourists are looking for solid bargains today. Another is, through education and publicity, to reach the large numbers of undecided stay-at-homes who have little or no travel experience and thus need more motivation and the confidence that they will not face problems they cannot handle in unfamiliar surroundings.
That is why Travelfest '82 is making a concerted effort to help first-time tourists and to convince them that travel is not only fun, but it can enlarge perspectives and provide needed relaxation that becomes a valuable investment in health.
There is much good travel news for the industry to trumpet this week: The continuing strength of the dollar on foreign-exchange markets means cheaper European vacations this spring for Americans; increased stateroom capacity and strong competition means cruise bargains; the latest devaluation of the peso means Mexican vacations are quite affordable now--even though hotel rates are about to rise; and the footloose can expect more promotional fares like the $99 coast-to-coast temptation despite (or perhaps because of) airline financial problems.
So think of the booths at the Convention Center as magic carpets. Certainly the exhibitors' brochures will be colorful, the destinations--both at home and abroad--are tempting, and the need for escape is real. If the show succeeds in packaging the product with style and imagination, that will be the ticket.