Friday, November 16, 2012

AAA: Traveler numbers will be up

Estimated 43.6 million Americans will take trips next week


Traffic flows into Ketchum Thursday morning on state Highway 75. Idaho’s roadways are expected to be very busy next week. AAA Idaho predicts that more than 200,000 Idahoans will make a driving trip for the Thanksgiving holiday. Photo by Roland Lane

It’s hardly a gangbuster increase, but this year’s expected 43.6 million travelers will mark the fourth consecutive year that people will drive, fly or catch a ride to spend time with family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Thanksgiving travel hit the decade’s low in 2008 when only 37.8 million Americans traveled,” said AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet. “Since that year, we have seen a steady increase in the number of travelers taking to the roads and skies for the holiday.”

Despite mild improvements in limited segments of the economy, this year’s 0.7 percent increase in travel numbers is slight, coming at a time when the economy is struggling, AAA said.

“For an economy that appears content to merely tread water at the moment, the net 15 percent increase in Thanksgiving travel over the past four years actually puts this year’s projections very near the historical average for the holiday,” said Dave Carlson, AAA Idaho public affairs director.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, a Boston-based economics consulting organization that works with AAA to analyze travel trends. The travel projections are derived from current economic conditions, along with a survey.

Total increase in economic activity, measured in its broadest measure as the gross domestic product, will end the year somewhere near the 2.1 percent mark, IHS Global Insight estimates. This is below the 2.5 percent measure associated as a threshold for a growing economy. 

Despite the continued sluggish economic recovery, AAA said there are a few bright spots. Housing starts are up, median prices are climbing and consumer confidence is improved from a year ago. 

“As much as anything, this year’s projections show that travelers have developed more of a ‘can-do’ attitude, economizing when they can and finding ways to travel during important family holidays, like Thanksgiving,” Carlson said.



What are the modes of travel?

AAA’s projected number of 43.6 million travelers includes those taking trips during the holiday period from Wednesday, Nov. 21, to Sunday, Nov. 25, up 0.7 percent from a year ago.

Approximately 39.2 million, or 90 percent of all holiday travelers, plan to drive to their destinations this Thanksgiving weekend, a 0.6 percent increase from a year ago. Another 3.1 percent or 7.2 million Americans, will fly, representing a 1.7 percent decline from a year ago.

Other modes of travel—bus, trains, watercraft and others—will make up the remaining 2.9 percent of the total travel volume. That will account for 1.3 million travelers. 



Impact of gasoline prices

Despite the historically high gas prices paid by motorists this year, the national average price has declined by nearly 35 cents in the past month to an average of $3.44, and should continue to drop through the end of the year.

Year-over-year travel projections for Idaho and surrounding states are also expected to show a modest increase (0.6 percent compared to the U.S. 0.7 percent mark) for the “all travel modes” aggregate. 

Idaho’s gas prices trailed the national average earlier this year, but have been slow to react to the lower market prices for oil that have led to lower retail prices in nearly all the rest of the country. In fact, Idaho’s statewide average price was among the highest in the country, and at $3.70 is currently 26 cents higher than the national average.  

Tuesday’s national average price of $3.44 is two cents higher than a year ago. Idaho’s $3.70 average is 19 cents higher than the $3.51 average a year ago. 



Travel by the numbers

According to AAA Idaho, these numbers give a glimpse of travel in the week to come:

  • Busiest travel day—Wed., Nov 21.
  • Average travel distance—588 miles, down 16.7 percent from last year’s 706 miles.
  • Median spending—Down 10 percent to $498, compared to $554 a year ago.
  • Idahoans’ most important activity—spending time with family and friends, 69 percent; dining, 69 percent.
  • Idahoans’ next most important activity—shopping, 50 percent.
  • Thanksgiving spending by category—food/beverage, 20 percent; shopping, 20 percent; fuel, 14 percent; lodging, 13 percent; entertainment/recreation, 11 percent; other transportation, 18 percent; other, 4 percent.
  • 90 percent—portion of travelers to ride or drive in motor vehicles. 
  • 204,000—number of Idahoans expected to drive or ride in a motor vehicle.


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