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AAA predicts increase in travelers for holidays

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

AAA projects a small increase in travel in the U. S., during the year-end holiday travel season, said a spokeswoman for AAA’s The Auto Club Group.

The travel season, from Dec. 23, to Jan. 2, will see an estimated 91.9 million travelers, an 1.4 percent increase over the 90.7 million who traveled last year, said Jessica Brady.

She said this expected travel volume is the second-highest in the past decade, and represents 30 percent of the U.S. population.

“AAA is happy to learn so many Americans plan to travel this holiday season, contributing to the second-highest year-end holiday travel volume in the past decade,” said Brent Hubele, vice president for AAA Travel. He said this projection is second only to the 2006-2007 holiday travel season, when more than 93.6 Americans took to the skies, roadways and waterways.

In Georgia, the estimate is that 2.55 million people will be traveling, an increase of 0.5 percent, Brady said.

Economic improvements are slowly emerging and consumer-survey results indicate active concern and some lingering pessimism over the rate of economic recovery, she said. Even so, she said, the nation’s gross domestic product is expected to increase for the 2011 fourth quarter by 1.5 percent over the 2010 fourth quarter. Even though the projected increase is minor, it is believed to be due, at least in part, to the rise in travelers for the year-end holiday season, and the confidence that shows.

Nearly three in five people intending to travel during the holidays, or 59 percent, said the economy, either doesn’t impact their travel plans, or things have improved, according to the surveys, Brady said.

It is a positive sign for the travel industry that a majority of people’s travel itineraries were not effected by the economy, which is a reminder of the importance of travel in U.S. society, she added.

•Automobile Travel

This year, automobile travel is the top transportation choice for Americans, with almost 27 percent of the country taking to the highways, she said.

About 83.6 million people, or 91 percent of those traveling, plan to be on the road for the year-end holiday season, she explained. This is a 2.1 percent rise over last year’s holiday travel season.

For the state of Georgia, 2.31 million people are expected to use vehicles to travel, a 1.1 percent increase, she said.

•Air Travel

Brady said approximately 5.4 million American travelers, or 6 percent, will take to the skies. This travel mode experienced a 9.7 percent decrease from the 2010-11, year-end holiday travel season, she said. However, this year’s decline is the lowest in the past decade, she added. “Jet fuel costs and capacity cuts continue to impact holiday air travel,” said Brady.

AAA’s Leisure Travel Index indicates that year-end holiday airfares will rise by 21 percent compared to 2010, she said. The average lowest round trip rate will be $210 for the country’s top 40 routes, she added. It is projected that 139,707 Georgians will travel by air, an 11.5 percent decline, she said.

•Other Modes of Travel

Brady said 2.9 million people will travel by train, bus or other mode — 4.2 percent more than last year. Economic conditions prompt Americans to travel by these modes, rather than by automobile or airplane, she said. AAA projects that 97,765 Georgians will use other modes of travel, which is a 5.9 percent increase from the year prior.

She said AAA’s travel projections are derived from economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, an economic research and consulting firm based in Boston, Mass.