NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Pity American travelers. The deck seems stacked against them. The news overflows with stories of anti-American rants and terrorist threats.
This spring brought commuter train bombings in Spain, as well as the unexploded bombs that police disarmed on a French rail line and under a Spanish bullet-train track.
Add to the dangers a stinging rise in the expense of travel both abroad and at home. With this nexus of negativity Americans must be huddling close to home these days, right?
Not so, according to AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair, who describes the current travel business as very strong. Rental car bookings are "heavy and steady," he says, "and we're not seeing any trend away from international travel either."
It seems that Americans have become somewhat inured to the dangers of foreign lands.
They'll still have to pay higher prices for foreign travel. The dollar has undergone a steep slide against most major world currencies the last few years, Americans are paying through the nose for hotels, meals, and purchases in many Eurozone countries, for example. Bills may run 40 percent higher now, or more. A villa in Provence that rents for a thousand euros a week now costs $1220 American, up from $880 in April of 2002.
Despite all this, Amy Ziff, editor at large for Travelocity, the online booking company, agrees that the travel business is flying. She claims that early indications are that summer travel to Europe may rise 30 percent or more this year, although she says it's still to soon to say for sure.
Ziff attributes part of the increase in European travel plans to "two years of pent up demand" due to a pullback in travel following 9/11 that the SARS scare help extend through the summer of 2003.
As of April, 1 gasoline averaged nearly $1.76 a gallon, according to independent market researcher Lundberg Survey, which monitors the petroleum industry. And on March 31 OPEC announced plans to cut oil production, which experts believe might drive a gallon of unleaded regular to $3 in the United States this summer.
All the same, AAA's Sinclair points out that high gas prices have yet to discourage Americans from firing up their SUVs for long road trips. As a matter of fact, he reports that in March the number one TripTik request from AAA's downstate New York region was for driving directions to Orlando, Florida, a 2,000 mile round trip.
"The number six request was for Las Vegas and number eight was Grand Canyon," says Sinclair.
The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) compiles an index of consumers' perceptions about travel safety. It indicates that Americans feel safer traveling today than at any time since the 9/11 attacks.
Ziff's own impression of travelers' sentiments match those of TIA. A recent poll, commissioned by Ziff, found that the today's global unrest does not greatly influence travel plans.
After the Madrid train bombings Ziff telephoned her call centers to see if there was an effect on bookings. In the past there would have been a lot of cancellations. Now, Americans are getting beginning to accept a certain amount of risk in daily life and travel.
"There are three types of travelers," said Ziff. "One says after a tragedy like the Madrid bombings, 'I'm just going to carry on,' and continues with his or her planned trip. Another says, 'I'll go to Prague instead.' But the third says, 'Because of the bombings I'm going to get a great deal by going to Madrid,' and books a trip there."
Travelocity actually experienced a bump in bookings to Spain after the bombings.
Although Americans seem to be putting the travel doldrums behind them, Ziff warns that a lot can happen between now and the height of the summer travel season. Gas prices even dropped a bit the first day of April (no joke).