Wednesday, August 29, 2012

AAA predicts modest travel increase

33 million Americans expected to take Labor Day trips


AAA predicts that some 33 million Americans will hit the highways this week for Labor Day travel. Photo by Mountain Express

AAA projects that 33 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during summer’s last hurrah, the Labor Day holiday weekend, a 2.9 percent increase from the 32.1 million people who traveled last year.

“This increase in travel is perhaps more accurately portrayed as a modest boost that says more about Americans’ unwavering desire to travel as opposed to a declaration about the strength of the economy,” said AAA Idaho public affairs spokesman Dave Carlson.

AAA’s predictions are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, a Boston consulting firm that looks at various macroeconomic drivers to determine travel intentions. 

Part of the basis for the stability in Labor Day travel is that overall growth in output and travel and employment has remained steady, despite the slow pace of recovery. A slow, yet predictable path of the upturn, combined with a summer decline in gas prices in most the U.S., has helped consumers properly balance their finances to allow for a last-minute summer vacation.

The projected increase is expected to reach a new post-recession high for this holiday, going back to 2008, and is the third increase in holiday travel this year. 

Travel by the numbers

Altogether, AAA projects that 33 million Americans will travel during the holiday period from Thursday, Aug. 30, to Monday, Sept. 3. That’s up 900,000 from the 32.1 million who traveled a year ago.

About 28.2 million people, or 85 percent of all holiday travelers, plan to drive to their destinations this year, a 3.1 percent increase over the 27.3 million who drove a year ago. Auto travel is considered the most convenient mode of travel for many Americans. 

Air travel is expected to account for 8 percent of all holiday travelers. Labor Day holiday air travel has been fairly consistent since the recession bounce-back began for the travel industry in 2010. About 2.55 million leisure travelers will fly during the holiday, a 3.7 percent increase over 2011 when 2.46 million traveled by air.

The remaining 7 percent of Labor Day holiday travelers are expected to use other modes of transportation.


Idaho to outpace U.S. travel

Travel originating in Idaho and other mountain region states is expected to improve by 3.2 percent relative to the holiday period in 2011, slightly outpacing the 2.9 percent increase forecast for the rest of the country.  In addition, 10.8 percent of the population in Idaho is expected to travel during the holiday period, compared to 10.5 percent for the U.S.

The Mountain region strongly outpaced the nation in terms of employment growth in early 2012. In addition, the construction, health-care, and professional and business service sectors have all recorded payroll expansion. 

AAA Idaho expects that 175,000 Idahoans will be drivers or passengers in motor vehicles traveling 50 or miles to holiday destinations this year. 


Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans

Regional fluctuations in pump prices, related to supply and distribution problems, have had major influences on gasoline prices in recent weeks. An Aug. 6 refinery fire in California has boosted West Coast gasoline prices by 20 to 25 cents a gallon.  

Midwest prices rose by 20 cents during a one-week period beginning July 30, caused by refinery issues and a leak in a major regional pipeline.

However, based on its nationwide survey of traveler intentions conducted by IHS Global Insights earlier this month, AAA says gasoline prices should have minimal impact on travel intentions for this holiday.

“At this time, many decisions on travel have already been made, and budgets have been set aside,” Carlson said. “It’s more likely that discretionary categories including food, beverage or entertainment would be reallocated rather than altering travel plans themselves.”

Despite recent run-ups in prices, the U.S. average price of $3.72, is still 24 cents below the high mark of $3.94 set in early April. Idaho’s average price of $3.64 is still below its high mark of $3.81 earlier this year.

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