The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

September 2, 2011

Holiday travel declines

Associated Press

Sept 2 — KEITH PHUCAS,writer

This Labor Day weekend fewer travelers planned to take to the roadways or skies, even before the damage predicted for the East Coast from Hurricane Irene.

On the holiday weekend that extends through Monday, Sept. AAA Mid-Atlantic forecasts 31.5 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during, but that's 2.4 percent less than last year.

The dip in planned travel is attributed to the sluggish economy and recent downturns in financial markets that affect discretionary income.

"It's a combination of the lagging economy and the rise in airfares," said Jenny M. Robinson, manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

In fact, increasing airfares and fees are contributing to a decline in air travel, and Labor Day would be the first expected decline for a major

travel holiday this year.

Nearly 2.5 million leisure travelers, just 8 percent of holiday travelers, will fly during Labor Day weekend, a 1.9 percent decrease from 2010.

According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, Labor Day airfares are expected to be 13 percent higher than last year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $202 for the top 40 U.S. air routes.

Hotels rates are also predicted to rise 6 percent.

About 27.3 million people — 87 percent of travelers — plan to take to the nation's roadways this holiday weekend, a slight increase of 0.5 percent from the 27.2 million Labor Day 2010 auto travelers.

According to a survey of traveler intentions, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Labor Day weekend is expected to be 608 miles, slightly less than last year's average distance of 635 miles.

Fuel and transportation costs consume the largest share of holiday spending (27 percent), followed by accommodations (22 percent), food and beverages (21 percent), shopping (13 percent), entertainment and recreation (12 percent) and other costs (5 percent), according to the travel club.

Robinson said higher fuel prices are inhibiting highway travel this holiday season.

Down nearly 10 percent from a May peak, gas prices will have less of an impact on Labor Day holiday travelers than they had on Memorial Day and Independence Day travelers — 42 percent of Memorial Day travelers said gas prices would impact their travel plans; 44 percent of July Fourth travelers.

While "real disposal income" is up just over one percent, the travel price index rose more than five times that figure.

"With a 1.3 percent rise in discretionary income and the price of travel up 6.7 percent, it shouldn't be surprising that people are feeling the pinch," Robinson said.