Strong regional Labor Day travel forecast

TOPEKA­­ – AAA expects 34.1 million Labor Day holiday travelers, a 4.2 percent increase over last year, and an even larger increase is expected in regional travel that includes Kansas. In the west north central region, an increase of 6.4 percent is expected. Also unique to this region is a greater portion of the population traveling over the holiday. While 10.7 percent of the U.S. population is expected to travel, 13.1 percent of this region’s population will travel. Besides Kansas, the region includes Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas.

While 85 percent of the U.S. population will travel by auto, 89 percent in the west north central region will do so. Air travel has remained fairly stable over the past three Labor Days following the recession. Eight percent of the U.S. Labor Day traveler will take to the skies, but only four percent will do so in this region. Nonetheless, a 4.7 percent increase in air travel in this region is expected over the last Labor Day holiday, compared to a 2.8 percent increase in air travel nationally.

Travel counselors from area AAA offices in Kansas report the top auto travel destinations for Kansas members planning trips now are Branson, New England fall foliage, Colorado and Yellowstone andBlack Hills. Kansas AAA Travel agents report their top destinations for trip planning are Disneyworld, Hawaii, fall foliage, Alaska and Europe cruises, as well as all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico.

The above-average increases for our region are the result of a relatively healthy economy, with shallower job losses during the recession than many other areas of the U.S. The region also enjoys the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

“A higher-than-average share of our population typically travels due to our widespread geography,” said James R. Hanni, AAA spokesman. “In advance of the Labor Day holiday weekend, it doesn’t hurt that drivers across our region continue to enjoy lower pump prices from a year ago, too.”

The holiday period begins Thursday and runs through Monday, Sept. 2. The largest share of travelers, 46 percent, will depart on Friday, Aug. 30, while Monday, Sept. 2, is the most popular date for return for holiday trips (43 percent). The average traveler is expected to travel a round-trip distance of 594 miles nationally, while the average distance, for the region that includes Kansas, is 663 miles. The budget for Labor Day travel is expected to average $804 for the U.S., while regionally, $660 is the expected average. This includes fuel and other transportation costs, accommodations, food and beverages, shopping and entertainment or recreation. Spending is largely unchanged from last year, with slight increases in spending for food and accommodations, with decreases for some transportation costs.

AAA Kansas also expects over 1,100 road service breakdowns during the Labor Day travel period. Of those, nearly 45 percent will involve towing, 16-17 percent each involve lockouts and jump starts, while 13 percent involve tires.

The average price of regular unleaded gas in Kansas is $3.50 and is less than a penny lower than it was a week ago, 10 cents lower than a month ago, and seventeen cents lower than a year ago. While gas demand has grown slightly in recent weeks, supplies have grown nearly ten percent, providing some relief in the region. However, Hanni cautioned, “crude oil prices have now settled above $100 per barrel each day since the beginning of July due in large part to continued reports of violence in the Middle East.”

Refinery issues, unrest in Egypt and Syria, and weather uncertainties in the Gulf provide variables to watch in the days and weeks ahead.

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