AAA projects record holiday travel despite gas prices

Filed under: Focus |

A staff report

Record numbers of Americans will travel this Memorial Day holiday despite record high gas prices, according to AAA.

The organization estimates that 36.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, a robust 3.6 percent increase from last year. Approximately 30.9 million travelers (84 percent of all holiday travelers) expect to go by motor vehicle, a 3.4 percent increase from the 29.9 million who drove a year ago. Another 4.1 million (11 percent of holiday travelers) plan to travel by airplane, up 5.3 percent from last Memorial Day. A projected 1.9 million vacationers (5 percent) will go by train, bus, or other mode of transportation, about even with a year ago.

“Record high gas prices won’t keep Americans from traveling this holiday,” said Mary Greer, AAA Colorado’s public relations director. “Despite gas prices that are nearly 50-cents per gallon higher than they were a year ago, record numbers of travelers will hit the highways. For example, a 1,000 mile road trip in a vehicle that gets 20 mpg will cost travelers an additional $25 for fuel costs over last year’s prices.

Just as significant is the marked increase in air travel compared to a year ago. Americans’ increased intentions to fly for fun this holiday are good news for the airlines and for the summer travel season that unofficially kicks off Memorial Day weekend.”

The strong holiday travel forecast comes at a time when both the economy and travelers’ comfort with security have improved during the last year.

“AAA’s travel agents and auto counselors have seen marked increases in travel interest this spring compared to a year ago,” said Sandra Barnes, AAA Colorado’s director of travel. “In the spring of 2003, many travelers delayed making vacation plans due to the Iraq War. This year, travelers have largely ignored some higher costs in their desire to return to their traveling ways. European vacation packages have sold quickly despite a weak dollar that makes much of Europe 10- to 20-percent more expensive this year than the past two summers.

And auto travel remains hot despite gas prices above $2 per gallon in many parts of the country.”

The greatest number of Memorial Day auto travelers will originate in the West with 7.4 million, followed by the Southeast, 6.8 million; Midwest, 6.6 million; Northeast, 5.6 million; and Great Lakes, 4.5 million. The West is expected to produce the largest number of air travelers with 1.3 million, followed by the Midwest with 1.1 million; Southeast, 800,000; Northeast, 500,000; and Great Lakes, 400,000.

Oceans and beaches top the list of preferred destinations this holiday with 24 percent of travel volume. Small towns and rural areas took a close second with 22 percent, just ahead of cities, 21 percent. Lakes, 8 percent; mountains, 8 percent; state/national parks, 5 percent; and theme/amusement parks, 3 percent rounded out the list. Another 7 percent responded with other, and 2 percent said they didn’t know.

Lodging reservations might be hard to come by, as 45 percent of the total Memorial Day travelers expect to stay at a hotel/motel. The other popular choice is friends or relatives, 27 percent, followed by camper/trailer/RV/tent, 8 percent; cabin/condo, 4 percent; other, 2 percent; no overnight stay, 5 percent, and didn’t know, 3 percent. Research for Memorial Day travel is based on a national telephone survey of 1,300 adults by the Travel Industry Association of American, which conducts special research for AAA.