Driving More – 31.5 Million Travelers During Labor Day Holiday

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Down 10% from a May peak, gas prices will have less impact on Labor Day holiday travelers than they had on Memorial Day and Independence Day travelers.

AAA predicts that 31.5 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Labor Day holiday weekend, a 2.4% decrease from the 32.3 million people who traveled last year. The Labor Day holiday travel period is Thursday 1 September 1 to Monday 5 September.

About 27.3 million people – 87% of holiday travelers – plan to take to the nation’s roadways this Labor Day holiday weekend. This is a slight increase of 0.5% from the 27.2 million Labor Day 2010 auto travelers, and a 3% increase in the share of total holiday travelers from last year’s 84%. Automobile travel remains the dominant mode of holiday transportation.

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The average distance traveled by Americans during the Labor Day holiday weekend is expected to be 608 miles, only slightly less than last year’s average travel distance of 635 miles.

The current national average price for regular unleaded gasoline is approximately $3.57 per gallon, about 86 cents higher than one year ago. Down nearly 10% from their May peak, gas prices will have less of an impact on Labor Day holiday travelers than they had on Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday travelers, during which 42% and 44% of travelers, respectively, stated gas prices would impact travel plans.

Now, 71% of intended Labor Day holiday travelers said gasoline prices would not impact their travel plans. For the remaining 29% who said gas prices would impact their travel plans, 20% plan to economize in other areas while the remaining 9% are divided between changing their mode of travel and taking shorter trips.

The overall decrease in travelers is the result of a mixed economic outlook, and consumer uncertainty regarding the overall economy, the U.S.’s largest auto club said. Real disposable income is up just 1.3%, which is being offset by the travel price index rising 6.7% since last year, due primarily to rising transportation costs.

“AAA is projecting a decrease in the number of Labor Day travelers as some Americans react to recent economic uncertainty and increasing air fares,” said Glen MacDonell, director, AAA Travel Services. “While automobile travel is expected to increase slightly, if recent declines in gasoline prices continue through Labor Day, we could see an increase in last-minute holiday weekend travel.”

About 2.5 million leisure travelers (8% of holiday travelers) will fly during the Labor Day holiday weekend, a 1.9% decrease from 2010. Rising fuel costs, combined with steady air travel demand, have resulted in rising airfares over the past few months. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, Labor Day airfares are expected to be 13% higher than last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $202 for the top 40 U.S. air routes. Increasing airfares and fees are factors contributing to the decline in air travel, the first expected decline for a major travel holiday in 2011 as forecast by AAA.

Other modes of travel (trains, watercraft, multi-modal travel) will make up the remaining 5% of total person-trips (1.7 million travelers), down from the 2010 share of 8%, but well above the 4% seen in 2009.

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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