Friday, August 29, 2008

AAA forecasts Labor Day travel decrease

High fuel prices cause summer-long travel drop

Express Staff Writer

To a passerby it might have looked like gasoline priced at $41.70 to $437 per gallon at the Hitchrack Motel Gas & Grocery in Hailey this week, but in reality it was a sign of the times. There's no longer much need for one-dollar fuel sign digits that include a decimal point. One-dollar gasoline, it seems, has gone the way of the dodo.

In line with summer-long trends, Labor Day weekend travel is predicted to elicit fewer driving and flying travelers as a result of high fuel costs and the overall weak economy.

While auto and air travel are down this holiday period, a projected 1.8 million Americans, or 5 percent of holiday travelers, plan to travel by train, bus or other mode of transportation. That represents an increase of 12.5 percent (or 200,000 travelers) more than the 1.6 million who traveled by a mode other than automobile or airplane last year.

AAA's travel projections are based on an online survey of more than 2,000 adults nationwide. The projections indicate that the West is expected to produce the most holiday travelers.

Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carol Waller said advanced bookings for the Labor Day holiday appear a little soft, but strong.

"I was surprised to not see it in the 90 (percent range)," she said, pointing to numbers that were in the upper 80s. "Usually we're about 100 percent on Labor Day weekend, so we might be a little off from that."

AAA said gas prices continue to drop, a result of oil prices that have fallen from a record high of $147 per barrel in mid-July to a range of $113 to $120 in recent weeks. The national average price for self-serve regular gasoline has dropped 35 cents in the past month, from $4.04 a gallon to $3.69.

Meanwhile, Idaho's average price has dropped only 19 cents during that same period, from $4.16 to today's $3.97 average.

"Idaho's average price is third highest in the lower 48 states, just behind Utah and California," said AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson.

Fourteen states have average prices below $3.60, with Missouri posting the nation's lowest average at $3.45.

AAA Idaho said last week that 0.9 percent, or 320,000, fewer Americans are predicted to travel this Labor Day weekend than a year previously. If so, this would mark the first decline in nationwide Labor Day holiday travel since 2006.

"The drop, while not significant in size—less than the 1.3 percent drop for the Fourth of July holiday—does signal the impact this summer's expensive gas and higher airfares are having on travelers," Carlson said.

Despite lower prices at the pump, the U.S. average price is still 90 cents higher than a year ago, and Idahoans are paying $1.10 a gallon more than they were a year ago.

Waller said summer tourism in Sun Valley and Ketchum has been strong.

"I think we've had a very strong July and August overall," she said. "I've talked with a lot of retailers who have said it's been the best summer ever. I know that's not everyone, but it's been an overall good summer."

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