Monday November 30th, 2015 10:12AM

33M plan to travel Labor Day weekend, despite sluggish economy

By Staff
TAMPA, Fla. - AAA Travel projects 33 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Labor Day holiday weekend, a 2.9 percent increase from the 32.1 million people who traveled last year. The Labor Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, August 30 to Monday, September 3.

The expected rise in Labor Day travel is the third projected increase in holiday travel this year, according to AAA's 2012 Labor Day Holiday Travel Forecast. AAA's Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday travel forecasts projected increases of 1.2 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

Despite a sluggish economy and recent rises in gas prices, the increase in expected Labor Day holiday weekend travelers is driven by improving consumer confidence compared to one year ago and American's unwavering desire to travel. The U.S. consumer sentiment index increased more than expected according to a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan report, and is expected to increase during the next six months.

"Although overall economic growth continues to move at a sluggish pace, it is encouraging to see so many Americans value and prioritize travel," said Brent Hubele, vice president, AAA Travel, The Auto Club Group. "The health of the travel and tourism industry is a vital contributor to our economic recovery and supports almost 8 million jobs across the nation."

Impact of household finances on travel plans

*66 percent of intended travelers said their current financial situation will not negatively impact their Labor Day holiday travel plans
*Of the remaining 34 percent of travelers who said their current finances would impact their travel plans:
*21 percent will economize in other areas
*9 percent are planning to take a shorter trip
*4 percent will travel by an alternate mode of transportation

Automobile travel up 3.1 percent

*Approximately 28.2 million people (85% of holiday travelers) will travel by automobile
*This is a 3.1 percent increase over the 27.3 million people who took to the nation's roadways this time last year
*Air traveler to increase by 3.7 percent; Travel by other means shows slight drop

About 2.5 million leisure travelers (8% of holiday travelers) will fly during the Labor Day weekend, a 3.7 percent increase from 2011 when 2.5 million traveled by air. Airfares decreased 4 percent from last year, with the average lowest round-trip rate of $197 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, according to AAA's Leisure Travel Index. The remaining 7 percent of holiday travelers are expected to use other modes of transportation that includes cruise, rail, and bus. This accounts for 2.3 million Americans - a nominal 0.2 percent decrease from last year.

Travel distance and spending increases from 2011

The average distance traveled by Americans this Labor Day holiday is expected to be 626 miles, up slightly from last year's average of 608 miles. Despite the longer travel distance, most holiday travelers (54%) will take shorter-distance trips, between 100 and 400 miles round-trip. The increase in expected air travel contributes to the slight lift in the average travel distance as air trips typically span longer distances than automobile trips, many over 1,500 miles round-trip. Median spending is expected to be $749, a small increase from the $702 spent on average last year Increase in hotel rates; decrease in car rental rates.

Labor Day holiday hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase 4 percent from a year ago, with travelers spending an average of $154 per night compared to $148 last year. Travelers who plan to stay at AAA Two Diamond hotels can expect to pay 6 percent more at an average cost of $117 per night. Weekend daily car rental rates will average $39, a 10 percent decrease from a year ago.

Impact of gasoline prices on travel plans

The current national average price of regular gasoline for August 21, 2012 is $3.72 per gallon, 15 cents more than today's price a year ago of $3.57.
The national average price for regular retail gasoline during last year's Labor Day holiday was $3.66. Barring any significant unforeseen events such as severe hurricanes, geopolitical incidents or dramatic nationwide price increases, gas prices are not expected to have a major impact on Labor Day holiday weekend travel.

AAA's projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight. The Boston-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA in 2009 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 2012 Independence Day Holiday Travel Forecast can be found at NewsRoom.AAA.com.
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