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Holiday Travel Expected to Be Hot ; Gas Prices Won't Keep Motorists Off the Highways

South Bend Tribune - May 24, 2004

Record-high gas prices won't keep travelers off the roads during the Memorial Day weekend, according to the AAA travel club.

AAA estimated that 36.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the holiday, an increase of 3.6 percent compared to last year.

"In the spring of 2003, many travelers delaying making vacation plans due to the Iraq War," said AAA Travel Vice President Sandra Hughes, in a statement. "This year, travelers have largely ignored some higher costs in their desire to return to their traveling ways."

Hughes noted that auto travel remains popular despite gas prices edging above $2 for much of the country.

In the South Bend area, the per-gallon price of regular gasoline averaged $2.07 Tuesday, a nickel higher than the Indiana statewide price of $2.02. Michigan registered $2.07 while the national average jumped to a new all-time high price of $2 per gallon Tuesday, according to AAA's online report.

About 30.9 million travelers -- 84 percent of the total planning a trip -- will travel by motor vehicle, a 3.4 percent increase from the 29.9 million who drove a year ago, according to AAA.

In Michigan, a AAA survey estimated about 1.1 million residents are expected to travel during Memorial Day, with 89 percent going by car, truck or van. Another 2 percent plan to take a recreational vehicle.

For all travelers, oceans and beaches topped the list of Memorial Day destinations with 24 percent of travel volume. Small towns and rural areas came in second with 22 percent. Other destinations included: cities, 21 percent; lakes, 8 percent; mountains, 8 percent; state/national parks, 5 percent; and theme/amusement parks, 3 percent.

With Memorial Day officially kicking off the start to the summer travel season, experts forecast a bright picture for the coming months, with increases in air and cruise travel, thanks to a better economy and travelers' increased comfort with security.

"For the first time in years, the summer travel season will start off with a bang and we expect it to stay strong through August," said Suzanne Cook, senior vice president of research for the association, in a statement. "But there are causes for concern, including rising gas prices and higher inflation."

The association also noted that the trend of taking more driving vacations and staying closer to home will still be prevalent this summer, but is beginning to soften.

Air travel is expected to increase 5 percent this summer, primarily due to leisure travelers.

AAA Travel Agency reported an increase in international tour bookings of 26 percent in April compared to April 2003, while cruise sales rose 45 percent for the same time period.

(C) 2004 South Bend Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved