NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Summer vacation in a sputtering economy may be somewhat restrained, but it's a gold mine for towns benefiting from Roadside America's renaissance.
About 86% of Americans surveyed by travel site TripAdvisor said they were planning a vacation trip this summer, up from 81% last year. Of those, one in 10 say the roughly 20-cent drop in gas prices from last summer is fueling more trips by car. Another 21% say they'd be willing to drive 10 hours or more to their vacation destination if it meant saving on airfare.
Considering nearly three-quarters of Americans head to their summer vacation by car, a revival of the Great American Road Trip draws more traffic to the towns and attractions vacationers were flying over in more flush times. For towns with economies heavily dependent on domestic tourism, even a few more drive-bys can be great for business. To offer some idea of what awaits American travelers who've traded frequent-flier miles for good tires, a GPS and some to-go cups, we took out the map and found 10 U.S. cities built on domestic tourist dollars. Some are kitschy, others are downright tourist traps, but all are making a big play for space in America's itineraries and online photo albums this year:Orlando, Fla.
How do you not include the home of Walt Disney World (DIS), Universal Orlando (CMCSA), Sea World and Gatorland. A mix of old-Florida kitsch and big tourism opulence, Orlando drew more than 55 million visitors last year, including 41 million vacationers from the U.S. alone. That's not only up from the 34 million Orlando drew in 2009 when the recession was at its worst, but is well up from the 35.3 million it drew in pre-downturn 2007.
Those towns don't ring any bells on their own, but they set off a whole carillon for travelers who've ever taken Interstate 95 down the coast to Myrtle Beach, Orlando, Miami or any other warm-weather hot spot. The line between these two towns is home to South of the Border, the heavily advertised tourist trap built by Alan Schafer in 1950 as a means of selling beer to the dry North Carolina county to the north. It's since expanded to a bazaar of shops selling fireworks, "Mexican" trinkets and bumper stickers once ubiquitous on family cars along the eastern seaboard. Are the Sombrero Tower, "Mexican" neon sign giant and other blatantly stereotypical attractions worth stopping for? That may depend on how long you've been driving and how many margaritas it will take for your co-pilot to drown the "Are we there yets" from his or her memory.
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