At El Monte RV, one of the country's largest RV rental companies, summer bookings from domestic customers are up 20 to 25 percent compared with last year.
"It has stunned us," says marketing director Joe Laing. "We're looking forward to this year. We think it's going to be a good one."
Businessmen and state officials on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi are also hoping for a good summer. The tourism industry there was devastated by the BP oil spill of 2010. As part of a settlement, BP has been financing large advertising campaigns to get tourists back to the region.
"This is going to be the best summer season we've ever had," predicts Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce in Mississippi.Williams has spent $962,000 in BP grants to market her county and a new science center there to tourists in northern Mississippi and neighboring Louisiana. In Florida, the Pensacola Bay Area Convention and Visitors Bureau says lodging tax revenue is up 7.5 percent this year. The tourism industry has spent BP money as far north as Chicago â¿¿ a 14-hour drive away â¿¿ to lure new visitors. But the most pampered vacationers this summer might not even be human. The Barkley Pet Hotel & Spa in Westlake Village, Calif., is booked solid this Memorial Day. After a recent 18,000-square-foot expansion â¿¿ another doggie day camp area for small dogs, another grooming salon and spa and another wing of luxury suites â¿¿ there is now room for 250 pets. This summer, they can attend ice cream socials, surf in a beach-like pool or play in the day camps, which are shaded by cabanas and cooled by misters. Some might say the pets have it better off than their traveling owners. __ With reports from Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Pensacola, Sue Manning in Los Angeles and Paul Wiseman in Washington.