AAA: Lower Fuel Costs and Travel Bargains to Spur Slight Rebound in Memorial Day Road Trips

On May 12, AAA projected the number of Americans traveling on vacation this Memorial Day holiday weekend will increase 1.5 percent from 2008 with approximately 32.4 million travelers taking a trip of 50 or more miles away from home. Last year, 31.9 million Americans traveled during the same period; a dramatic decline from the 35.3 million travelers who vacationed in 2007.

“Last year, soaring gas prices and a deteriorating economy resulted in far fewer trips being taken than had been forecasted,” said Robert L. Darbelnet, AAA president and CEO. “The good news is sharply lower gasoline prices and plentiful travel bargains have Americans feeling better about taking a road trip this summer which should help tourism-based economic activity throughout the nation.” Approximately one in seven Americans is employed directly or indirectly by the hospitality and travel industry, Darbelnet said.

AAA’s projections are based on research conducted by IHS Global Insight. The Boston-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA earlier this year as part of an agreement to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2009 Memorial Day holiday forecast can be found at AAA.com/news.

Trips by auto will be the beneficiary of Americans’ returning wanderlust with 27 million people – or nearly 83 percent of all travelers - planning a road trip. This is an increase from last Memorial Day when 26.3 million travelers paid among the highest fuel prices on record to travel by motor vehicle. This summer AAA does not expect the price of gasoline to average more than $2.50 per gallon. The current nationwide average price of self-serve regular is $2.248. In contrast to trips by personal automobile, trips by air will decline by 1 percent. Approximately 2.1 million Americans will travel by air over the holiday weekend, AAA said. This is 7 percent of total travelers. Trips by other modes, including rail, buses and watercraft, will be the dominant means of travel used by an estimated 3.3 million Americans, or 10 percent of all travelers.

The average distance traveled by Americans this Memorial Day holiday weekend is forecast to be approximately 620 miles, AAA reported. This is a slight decrease from 2008 when the average distance traveled was expected to be 640 miles. Average spending is estimated to be $1,052 this Memorial Day. Nearly 60 percent of Americans will spend time with friends and relatives over the holiday, and traveling as a family will be the most popular way to go with 34 percent of travelers making a journey with children or other family members.

According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, air fares over the Memorial Day holiday weekend are expected to decrease 4 percent from last year as air passengers will pay an average $176. Car rental rates will drop lower with consumers paying an average of $43 per day compared to $45 a year ago, a decrease of 3 percent. Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to be 12 percent less than last year with travelers spending an average of $142 per night. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels will pay an average of $104 per night, 7 percent less than a year ago.

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