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More Americans plan to travel this summer, surveys say

But many travelers will hold the line on spending for items such as hotel stays and entertainment because of high fuel costs and rising airfares.

May 16, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • An annual survey by the American Automobile Assn. released Tuesday predicted that 34.8 million Americans will travel by all modes at least 50 miles from home during the holiday weekend, a 1.2% increase over last year. Above, Memorial Day weekend motorists on the Pacific Coast Highway last year.
An annual survey by the American Automobile Assn. released Tuesday predicted… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

Americans plan to travel in slightly higher numbers this summer, according to surveys, starting with the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

But many will hold the line on spending for items such as hotel stays and entertainment because of high fuel costs and rising airfares.

An annual survey by the American Automobile Assn. released Tuesday predicted that 34.8 million Americans will travel by all modes at least 50 miles from home during the holiday weekend, a 1.2% increase over last year.

Slightly more than half the 50,000 people who took part in the nationwide study said fuel prices won't affect their travel plans. But the rest said that costs will force them to take shorter trips or cut back on spending in other areas.

The average distance traveled over the holiday weekend is expected to drop to 642 miles this year, from 792 miles last year, according to AAA.

"We have been seeing people sort of managing their trips," said Jeffrey Spring, a spokesman for the Auto Club of Southern California. "If they have to spend more on gasoline, they will look for other ways to save, like eating out less."

Jim Egnatoff, a carpenter from Arcadia, said he will be one of those being careful. "You always try to do the frugal thing, especially now with the gas prices up," Egnatoff said.

He said he plans to take trips this summer to Pismo Beach and San Diego and will watch for ways to save, such as hotel deals. "That goes without saying," he said.

Paul Neria, a federal worker from Covina, said he is worried about the price of gasoline but won't let it disrupt his plans for a road trip in the next few weeks to Laughlin, Nev., where he plans to ride his jet ski in the Colorado River.

"Gas prices are going to slow people down," he said. "But I'm going to enjoy my trip."

The rising number of travelers this summer may reflect growing consumer confidence in the economy, said Adam Weissenberg, travel leader for Deloitte, a professional services firm in New York that also released a travel survey Tuesday.

"We've seen the travel numbers in the last two summers continue to grow, and the growth has been modest," he said. "But it's still good news, reflective of consumer confidence."

The Deloitte survey showed that 54% of Americans expect to take a trip between June 1 and Labor Day, up slightly from the 52% who said they planned to take a summer trip last year. About 1,000 people nationwide took part in the online survey.

To save money, travelers will book flights this summer on airlines that don't charge checked-bag fees and they will stay at hotels that offer complimentary breakfast, free wireless Internet and free parking, according to the Deloitte survey.

The expected uptick in travel over the next few months reflects a dramatic improvement for the travel industry from the recession, when travel dropped significantly. The hotel industry was hardest hit, with occupancy levels near 60%, the lowest since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes.

Gone are many of the more exotic deals during the recession, such as Southern California hotels that offered guests discounts on tattoos and free motorcycle rentals.

Hotels will continue to offer some discounts this summer but the deals won't be as extreme, said Steve Joyce, chief executive of Choice Hotels, which oversees more than 6,000 hotels around the world.

"Our customers feel they have a God-given right to take a vacation," he said. "I think that is going to hold true this summer."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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