Memorial Day weekend is approaching, which can only mean one thing: The countdown to summer is on.
According to AAA’s first travel forecast of the summer, 3,078,000 million Americans in the West North Central Region of the U.S., that includes Kansas, are projected to travel over Memorial Day, representing an increase of almost .4 percent - or 12,000 more travelers – compared to last year. Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas are also part of the West North Central Region.
“Several key factors are driving the expectation for more holiday travelers this year,” said Jim Hanni, Kansas spokesman for AAA. “As the economy continues to improve, disposable income, consumer confidence and the employment outlook are trending up. Plus, total costs to operate a vehicle are down compared to last year. This is welcomed news for the travel industry.”
Three trends from AAA’s 2014 Memorial Day forecast include:
1. Road trips remain strong
About 2,721,000 in the West North Central Region — or 88.4 percent of the region’s travelers — plan to drive to their destination, compared to 87 percent nationally. Kansans are paying $3.43 per gallon, on average, to fill up before heading out of town this Memorial Day, compared to $3.92 last year. The 49 cent drop in year-over-year Kansas gas prices ranks as the sixth largest drop for any state. The national average for unleaded gasoline is $3.64. Refinery production has increased now following the switch from winter to summer blends of fuel and in advance of the summer driving season. However, increases in retail demand due to warmer temperatures now are beginning to outpace the increases in supplies.
Earlier this month AAA released the results of its annual ‘Your Driving Costs’ study, revealing a 2.7 percent decrease in the cost to own and operate a sedan in the U.S. The average cost fell 1.64 cents to 59.2 cents per mile, or $8,876 per year, based upon 15,000 miles of annual driving. While fuel costs fell over ten percent, costs for tires, insurance and depreciation also fell slightly, while only maintenance costs rose slightly. A copy of the 2014 “Your Driving Costs” edition can be found at AAA offices in Wichita, Topeka, Lawrence and Manhattan, or online at www.aaa.com/automotive ,click on “gas information.”
2. Air travel steady but average fares higher
About 126,000 in the West North Central Region plan to fly to their Memorial Day destination. This represents over four percent of all travel and is the same as last year. The average lowest roundtrip air fares in the U.S. will be six percent higher for this Memorial Day, compared to last year.
3. Travel expenses rise modestly
AAA Three Diamond and AAA Two Diamond hotel rates are up two and three percent, respectively, year over year. Car rental rates for Memorial Day are up one percent from last year.
Auto Travel Counselors in Wichita’s two AAA offices indicate the top five destinations by car so far that AAA members are planning this summer include Branson, Orlando, Yellowstone, Kansas City and Dallas. In the Northeast Kansas AAA offices of Topeka, Manhattan and Lawrence, auto travel counselors report their top five summer auto destinations also include Branson, Yellowstone and Orlando, but have Mt. Rushmore and the Grand Canyon as top destinations. Travel agents in all Kansas offices report their top five destinations for AAA vacations this summer include Caribbean and European river cruises, Hawaii, Disneyworld and Alaska land and cruise trips.
Research for Memorial Day travel projections are derived from IHS Global Insight, which conducts special research for AAA. The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as trips that include travel of 50 miles or more during the five-day period from Thursday, May 22, to Monday, May 26. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.