Here’s some good news for you, bad news for the travel industry: AAA projects a nearly 1 percent decrease in the number of Americans who will hop in a car and journey 50 miles or more from home during the 2013 Fourth Of July holiday weekend. That means the busiest days of the summer travel season won’t be quite as hectic as they were last year.
Robert Darbelnet, President and CEO of AAA, said the decline was “due to the calendar effect of one fewer day in the holiday period and economic growth that is not robust enough to offset the impact of the sequester and the effect of the end of the payroll tax cut on American families.”
About 41.1 million people traveled away from home for the holiday last year, when the Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday. This year, the date falls on a Thursday and the total is down to just 40.8 million. Both numbers remain below prerecession figures from 2007, when 42.3 million Americans splurged on a mid-summer getaway.
The biggest decline in 2013 comes in automobile travel, though 84 percent of Americans still plan to drive to their destination. Gas costs are partially to blame for the downturn, AAA said. As of mid-June, the price at the pump is up an average of 10 cents per gallon compared to the same time in 2012 at $3.60.
A new consumer index developed by AAA found that most Americans consider gas prices to be “too high” when they eclipse $3.44 per gallon. The index also found that more than 60 percent of Americans have changed their driving habits or lifestyle to offset the additional costs.
One change may be the distance traveled. Americans will go roughly 110 miles fewer than last year’s average journey of 723 miles away from home. Some Americans, meanwhile, appear to have switched from ground to air travel, which is up slightly this year. More than 3.07 million people, or 8 percent of all leisure travelers, will fly to their destination to celebrate the Fourth of July, while the remaining 8 percent will travel by other modes such as rail, bus or boat.
Though the overall number of travelers is down, it remains above the 13-year average. Moreover, travelers are expected to spend nearly the same amount of money as they did last year at about $747.
AAA said transportation costs would consume about 29 cents of every dollar, while 20 percent of expenditures would go toward food and beverage and another 22 percent toward lodging. The average cost of lodging is up by about $6 this year to $164 per night, while car rental rates have shot up from an average of $45 last year to more than $58 per day this Forth of July holiday.
A survey of travel habits found that more than 50 percent planned to visit family or friends. Nearly half planned to shop and dine out, one-third planned to go to the beach or sightseeing, while one-quarter will celebrate the nation with a trip to one of its historic or national parks.
Memorial Day and Labor Day bracket the summer travel season, but it’s Independence Day that is far and away the busiest. AAA defines the Fourth of July holiday period as Wednesday, July 3 thru Sunday, July 7, and warned that 32 percent of travelers are expected to depart on Wednesday while 38 percent will return on Sunday, the two busiest days.
Where they will go was the subject of another survey. Online booking site Orbitz predicted Orlando to be the favorite this summer, followed by New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chicago. Rounding out the top 10 were Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C.
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...