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Warm-weather cities experience brisk business as travelers flee bitter cold

By Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:02 a.m. HST, Mar 01, 2014


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 slippers, tank tops and shorts atop taxis with their arms outstretched — a whimsical inducement to "fly" south.

Reminding Americans that there are places where nose hairs don't freeze is an annual tradition. But those in the business of luring visitors to warmer climates say it's rarely been easier than this season, when "polar vortex" has entered the everyday vocabulary and "Chi-beria" has become popular enough to emblazon on T-shirts.

"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 bikini-clad 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.

Not that people needed much reminding of the harsh conditions.

"The winter is so bad, there is a certain amount of desperation," said Alex Kutin, an Indianapolis travel agent. "They come and say, ‘I've got to get somewhere warm. Where do you recommend?'"

Another assault of bad weather was expected during 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.

Kevin Tuttle of Verona, Wis., was so intent on finding warmth that he decided against Florida out of fear that the polar vortex might reach down and find them there. Instead, he and his wife will take their 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to Manzanillo, Mexico, a resort on the Pacific Ocean.

"That's near the equator, right? It's got to be pretty warm," Tuttle said.

Winter refugees are also staying longer once they arrive.

Micah Hilgendorf said the thought of heading back to ice-covered Chicago, where he owns a couple of bars, prompted him to tack on three days in Florida before and after a cruise out of Miami. He also flew to Palm Springs, Calif., for four days.

"All of that is last-minute because of the weather," Hilgendorf said.

Travel agents say the number 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 AAA in Minnesota.

Don Babwin, Associated Press






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