Photo by Heather Middleton
By M.J. Subiria Arauz
Memorial Day weekend begins today, and the American Automobile Association (AAA) has projected a 0.2-percent increase in travelers, compared to last year, said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South.
She said these travelers plan to take a trip of 50 miles or more this holiday weekend, ending on Monday, May 30. "This means 34.9 million Americans are expected to travel later this week, versus the 34.8 million who traveled last year," she said.
Brady said the profile of the American traveler changed this year, after retail gasoline increased by more than $1, from 2010. Travelers with a household income of $50,000, or less make up 31 percent of total travelers, a 10-percent decrease from last year. People traveling with household incomes between $50,000, and $100,000 rose 6 percent. Travelers with an income of over $100,000 increased five percent, she said.
"The rising fuel costs this year have had a more significant affect on those with lower household discretionary funds, since filling up their tank takes a bigger cut of their overall budget," added Brent Hubele, vice president of travel for AAA Auto Club South.
Hubele confirmed that there has been a shift in traveler demographics because of increased gas prices, compared to last year.
The number of families traveling this year experienced no change, said Brady. The number of single adult travelers decreased by 5 percent, and two-adult parties increased by 3 percent, she said.
* Automobile Travel
Slightly fewer motorists will be traveling this Memorial Day weekend, said Brady. Overall, automobile travel is projected to decrease by 0.3 percent from last year. In Georgia, only 890,027 motorists will travel, a 0.3-percent decrease, she said.
Stockbridge residents, Ray Ng, and his wife, Karen, plan to stay at home during the upcoming holiday. Karen said she would rather spend time at home with their family of six, than pay inflated gas prices. The stay-at-home mother said gas prices have increasingly become a consideration in her day-to-day routine over the past few years. "You think about it, now," Karen said. "Why waste the gasoline; you've just got to do it in one trip."
Karen recalled a time, in 1998, when she could pump gas in metro Atlanta for 89 cents per gallon. Her husband, Ray, remembers his teenage years in the late '80s and early '90s. "We could spend $5 on gas to put in a '77 Camaro and ride around all weekend," said Ray. "Now, it [the price of gas] is basically pillaging the public, because you have no other options. You have to have gas to get where you need to go."
* Traveling By Air
Among the various transportation options, air travel demonstrated the greatest increase, said Brady. There will be 84,028 air travelers in Georgia, an 11.5-percent increase from 2010, she said. Nationwide, 2.93 million travelers will fly to their destinations, also an 11.5-percent increase from 2010. This is the result of more people with household incomes of $50,000 or more, having a greater amount of disposable income, she said.
"The change in travelers' profile and party size and composition is the main reason we are seeing an increase in airline travel this year, despite increased airfares and associated fees," added AAA's Hubele. "The increase in air travel is also why ... there is an increase in total distance traveled from last year."
Katena Carvajales, spokeswoman for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, said the airport's "100 days of summer" is its busiest travel season, which begins on Memorial Day, May 30, and ends on Labor Day, Sept. 5. To make traveling convenient and pleasurable for passengers, the airport is offering simple tips for its customers, she said.
* Domestic passengers should arrive at the airport 90 minutes prior to their flights, and international passengers should arrive two hours before.
* Travelers should expect wait times at security checkpoints to be less than 10 minutes, during off-peak times and no more than 20 minutes, during peak times. Passengers can check wait times by visiting the airport's web site, at www.atlanta-airport.com. They can also visit the web site and register for Trak-a-Line, a free program that allows customers to receive real-time wait times through their e-mail accounts, or mobile devices,.
* Travelers should avoid wearing anything metal that may set off security sensors. People should wear shoes that are easy to remove. Passengers should be careful on escalators, if children are wearing Crocs footwear or flip-flops.
* The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) asks passengers to follow the "3-1-1" rule for carry on baggage, which includes 3-ounce bottles or less, by volume; one quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; and one bag per passenger.
* Carvajales said passengers can save time by parking at the world's busiest airport.
"Hartsfield-Jackson offers ample, convenient parking with more than 30,000 on-site parking spaces in the hourly, economy, daily and Gold and Park-Ride lots." They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
* Travel Activities And Spending
The overall amount travelers will spend this year is down, though travel has experienced an increase this year, said Local AAA Spokeswoman Brady. The average amount vacationers plan to spend is $692, compared to the $809 spent in 2010. "The change is likely the result of the planned activities, which are less expensive than years past," she said.
Fuel costs are attributed to about 31 cents of every dollar spent, a 4.4-percent increase from last year's 25 cents to every dollar, she said. Travelers plan to spend less on entertainment, recreation and shopping, she said. More people will partake of less expensive activities, such as touring and sightseeing, accounting for 37 percent of travelers; beach recreation, 36 percent; hiking and biking, 25 percent; historic site visits, 23 percent; and national and state park visits, 19 percent.
Patrick Duncan, of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said travelers are watching their budgets this year, and motorists are concerned about the high prices, accompanied with the expense of travel. "We have seen an increase in travel lately compared to last year ... but we are still down compared to a couple of years ago, [although] the visitor trends and hotel occupancy is up compared to last year," said Duncan. He said May is a traditionally a good month for travel and lodging in Clayton County, but the county is not a holiday destination for Memorial Day.
Laura Luker, of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, said a lot of outside visitors are not expected in Henry County during the Memorial Day weekend, though the county has various attractions for metro-area residents. "I think we are in a perfect location for something new and different for people looking to take a stay-cation," she said.
Tyler Pearson, public relations specialist with the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau said tourism in metro Atlanta remains healthy despite higher fuel costs. "I think it helps us in some sense, because instead of going to Florida, people will stay in town." Pearson said that constantly having new attractions and new exhibits appeals to potential visitors from around the Southeast, particularly those who live a short drive away in cities like Birmingham, Ala. The tourism professional said Atlanta will see the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum, and the College Football Hall of Fame, which will relocate from Southbend, Ind., in 2013. He said Legoland Discovery Center is scheduled to open in 2012 at Phipps Plaza.
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) will suspend construction-related lane closures starting at 5 a.m., on Friday, May 27, and extending until 10 p.m., on Monday, May 30, said David Spear, spokesman for the department. He said motorists should be cautious while driving through the anticipated heavy holiday traffic, throughout the state. Safety concerns may require long-term lane closures, said Spear. Incident management, or emergency and maintenance lane closures may be necessary at any time, on any route, he said. "Historically, Georgia experiences more than 2,000 crashes, resulting in more than a dozen fatalities and more than a thousand injuries during the Memorial Day weekend," added Vance Smith, Jr., state transportation commissioner. "Enjoy your holiday, but please be very careful while driving."
* Georgia State Patrol
Georgia State Patrol officials are urging motorists to plan their travels carefully and to wear their seat belts. Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said heavy traffic is expected this weekend, due to graduation ceremonies, festivals and vacation travel. "We anticipate a busy weekend on Georgia roads," he said.
GDOT's Crash Reporting Unit said there were 2,143 traffic crashes across the Peach State during the 2010 Memorial Day weekend. These crashes resulted in 945 injuries and five deaths. "The number of traffic deaths during the holiday weekend last year was the lowest ever recorded for Memorial Day weekend," said Hitchens.
Staff writer Johnny Jackson contributed to this report.