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Travelers to feast on state- Denver Post November 21, 2003

The best holiday season in three years appears to be on the horizon for Colorado's tourism industry.

Travel anxieties have begun to fade, the economy is rebounding and snow has begun to pile up - which bodes well both for Coloradans taking vacations and others coming here.

"Christmas and New Year's look absolutely tremendous," said Bill Tomcich, head of Stay Aspen Snowmass, the largest reservation agency in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The Automobile Association of America said Thursday that about 2.4 percent more Americans are expected to travel for Thanksgiving than last year. Air travel should increase 1 percent as 4.6 million Americans take to the skies.

But the trend could be even stronger in Colorado. Denver International Airport's traffic was up nearly 4 percent through September. By comparison, the major U.S. airlines saw their traffic decline 3 percent over the same period, according to the Air Transport Association, an airline trade group.

Also, online travel website Travelocity said Tuesday that Denver ranks No. 4 among U.S. cities as a destination for Thanksgiving air travel this year. Last year, Denver was No. 8.

So far, Denver ranks second for the holiday season, just behind New York, said Amy Ziff, Travelocity's editor-at-large.

"It looks like the ... snowfall has a lot of people focusing on skiing in Colorado this year," Ziff said.

Colorado's top two ski resorts are seeing strong demand.

Christmas hotel bookings in Vail and Beaver Creek are up 24 percent over last year, said Kelly Ladyga, spokeswoman for Vail Resorts.

Hotel bookings for December in Aspen are up 20 percent, Tomcich said. "It's probably the strongest demand we've seen since the 1997-98 season."

Frontier Airlines' planes are booked about 28 percent fuller than last year for the holidays, spokesman Joe Hodas said.

Local travel agencies report strong holiday business, as well.

"It seems like people's confidence level is up, and the fear factor is going down," said David Rojahn, owner of DTR Travel in Centennial. "Plus the stock market is up."

Customer inquiries are running about 15 percent ahead of last year at DTR, Rojahn said.

Terry Trippler, a travel expert with online agency Cheapseats.com, said the increased traffic means airports and planes will be fuller this year than the past several years.

"There will be more people traveling on the Sunday after Thanksgiving than have on any day since Sept. 11, (2001)," he predicted.

The demand is strong even though leisure airfares are about 10 percent higher than last year, he said. There are some fare sales - including a United Airlines sale that ends today - but travelers have to fly on the holidays or other less-traveled days, he said.

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