Gas prices are lower than they were last Memorial Day, but that’s apparently not enticing more local or national travelers to head out of town for the holiday. The number of motorists expected to travel 50 miles or more this extended weekend is projected to stay about flat compared to last season.
AAA Travel projects 34.8 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend by car, plane and other modes, 37,000 of them from Luzerne and Columbia counties. Nationally, that’s a nearly 1 percent decrease from the 35.1 million people who traveled last year. Locally the number is also down about 1 percent.
The Memorial Day holiday travel period began Thursday and runs through Monday.
“AAA is forecasting Memorial Day travel to experience a slight dip as lower gas prices and economic improvements from last year are not strong enough to spur an increase in travelers,” said Jenny M. Robinson, a AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman. “Economic growth in the first quarter was strong, but the impact of the sequester is now beginning to be felt, reducing economic growth expectations.”
Automobile is still the mode of travel for most planning to make a long trek to celebrate the holiday. Of those traveling in the Wilkes-Barre area, 90 percent plan to drive to drive to their destination. Nationally, the figure is 89 percent. Air travel is expected to decline 8 percent from last year nationally.
Other findings in the Memorial Day Travel Forecast include:
* Median spending is expected to decrease more than 6 percent to $659, compared to $702 in 2012.
* A survey of intended travelers found that gasoline prices would have no impact on plans for 62 percent. Of the 38 percent who said gas prices would impact their travel plans, 27 percent plan to economize in other areas. Eight percent are planning to take a shorter trip and 3 percent will travel by an alternate mode of transportation.
* During the holiday weekend, 59 percent of travelers will visit friends/family.
* Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase 4 percent from one year ago with travelers spending an average of $166 per night compared to $160 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels remained unchanged with an average cost of $120 per night.
Since gas prices peaked at the end of February — locally the average was $3.82 on Feb. 20 — motorists have seen gas prices dip nearly 30 cents. However, the current average price for a gallon of regular gasoline — $3.45 — is 15 cents lower than a year ago. And nationally the average rate is only 4 cents less than a year ago.