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Cash In on the Coming Travel Boom

The Great Recession might seem like it has never ended, but one class of consumer has had no trouble bouncing back. They're the affluent, and they're driving this two-speed economy of ours. With high income and high net worth, the affluent have money to burn, and this year many of them are looking to spend it on traveling. Travel stocks might just be ready to rally.

Just the facts, please
The Unity Marketing study that discovered this increasing interest in traveling offers a number of interesting figures. Let's run through them quickly:

  • Survey size: 1,498.
  • Average income: $279,100 (minimum cutoff is $100,000).
  • Total taxpayers in this category: 17.4 million (12.4% of taxpaying populace).
  • 43% plan to spend more on travel in 2012, with 12% planning to spend significantly more.
  • Only 15% plan to reduce their travel costs.
  • 54% plan to redeem reward points for trips.
  • 61% will make their own plans; only 38% will use a travel agent.
  • Only 15% cite travel rewards as an influence.
  • Specialty discount offers only influence 15% of travelers, less than the previous survey two years ago.

Trouble at the 'Zoo
What does it all mean? It's highly encouraging for the right sort of companies, but the last two lines in particular might give some others pause. Travelzoo (Nasdaq: TZOO  ) is the clear standard-bearer of online discount traveling. With a slim fraction of likely travelers looking for special offers, it could be in for another disappointing year. It doesn't help that online discount sites are notoriously competitive, and larger players could outmuscle Travelzoo if they start smelling new revenue streams.

Roll the dice
If travelers plan to redeem rewards and spend more money, who stands to benefit? The casino industry will throw itself at big spenders to get them to come back, as anyone who's put in time at the tables can attest. Fellow Fool Travis Hoium has already noted an uptick in visitors to Sin City that began last year, on which Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS  ) and MGM Resorts (NYSE: MGM  ) are poised to capitalize. Rewards redemption plus more spending money is music to the ears of big casinos.

Take to the air
What of the well-heeled set that prefer more exotic destinations? Major airlines have enough trouble keeping their heads above water, even in good times -- witness the airline bankruptcy musical chairs of the last decade. That doesn't mean the well-heeled won't need tickets. With most making their own plans, (Nasdaq: PCLN  ) could scoop up a number of new customers this year. That could strap a rocket onto its impressive internationally fueled growth. Remember, just because people want to spend more doesn't mean they necessarily want to splurge on a flight.

Rule the waves
Cruising also appears to be in vogue this year, particularly on smaller, more luxurious ships. One big winner here is Celebrity Cruises, the upscale brand of cruiser Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL  ) . Cruise Holidays reports that Celebrity's new ships are the most popular cruise choices for 2011, and look set to sustain that momentum into 2012.

Royal Caribbean stock offers more than just a decent 1.5% dividend -- both it and Carnival offer benefits to anyone with more than 100 shares in their portfolio. If you own at least 100 shares and take a cruise with Royal Caribbean, you can get up to $250 in onboard credit. A standard cruise of six to nine nights on Royal Caribbean offers $100 in credits, which works out to a sort of "bonus" 3.9% dividend for taking just one cruise a year at the company's current share price -- if you own the minimum 100 shares. Owning a little stock makes a lot of sense for affluent cruisers.

If you'd like to track these companies to find out whether they can cash in this year, add them to your Watchlist now. Looking for another company with great potential, both this year and beyond? Get your free copy of The Motley Fool's brand-new report on a cutting-edge company that looks like the next rule-breaking multibagger.

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter for more news and insights. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and Travelzoo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Alex Planes

Alex Planes specializes in the deep analysis of tech, energy, and retail companies, with a particular focus on the ways new or proposed technologies can (and will) shape the future. He is also a dedicated student of financial and business history, often drawing on major events from the past to help readers better understand what's happening today and what might happen tomorrow.

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