Hoping the prospect of sales will woo cash-strapped travellers, U.S. tourist destinations are taking a page from the retail playbook, offering tourists deep discounts and freezing gate prices.

They include free nights at Walt Disney World in Florida, coupons worth $15 off at Pennsylvania’s Hershey Park and admission to the Georgia Aquarium, the world’s largest fish tank, all at last year’s prices.

The markdowns are enough to make even the most frugal traveller think twice about staying home.

“Given so many people have lost their jobs and aren’t getting raises and aren’t getting bonuses, it did not seem appropriate to do a price increase this year,” said Dave Santucci, spokesman for the aquarium in downtown Atlanta.

A ticket at the aquarium will cost the same this year as it did last — $27 US for adults. Visit once, and you get a “bounce pass” to return any time that year for $15. And the aquarium is brokering deals with surrounding attractions like the World of Coca-Cola to offer combination tickets at discount prices.

And it couldn’t come at a better time.

The nation’s tourism industry hasn’t seen a year this bad since just after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when hotel occupancy dropped 16 per cent over the prior year, said Jan Freitag, vice-president of Smith Travel Research, which follows the hotel industry. Hotel occupancy dropped 10 per cent from November 2007 to the same month in 2008, he said.

“It’ not pretty right now, from the hotel perspective,” he said. “Some analysts out there think it’s going to get much worse.”

At Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., visitors can save $400 US off the price of a seven-night stay between February and the end of June. The deal — being touted as “buy four nights, get three free” — can be booked through the end of March, said Rick Sylvain, spokesman for the resort.

He declined to give numbers on how many visitors signed up for the deal. Walt Disney World is advertised the discount more heavily than usual in hopes of drawing families during typically slow times at the attraction, Sylvain said.

Hershey Park, which runs a zoo and amusement park next to the headquarters for the iconic chocolate company, is offering one the steepest coupons in its 102-year history - $15 off the $51.95 price of admission, said spokeswoman Kathy Burrows.

Some attractions, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, are offering free days once a month for local residents. Others, like Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., are teaming up with hotels and other attractions to offer discounts on package deals to tourists who travel to the retiree Mecca for a few days.

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