AAA Projects Independence Day Travel Dip

Anticipated decline due to shorter holiday period

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ORLANDO, Fla. -- AAA Travel projects that 40.8 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day holiday, a 0.8% decrease from the 41.1 million people who traveled last year, according to its 2013 Independence Day Forecast Report.

The anticipated decline in holiday travel is predominantly due to a shorter holiday period. With the Fourth of July landing on a Thursday this year, the holiday period has returned to the standard five-day holiday, compared to the six-day period in 2012 when the holiday fell on a Wednesday. Decade-high travel volume occurred in 2007 when 42.3 million Americans traveled and the holiday also fell on a Wednesday. The Independence Day holiday travel period is defined as Wednesday, July 3 to Sunday, July 7.

"This year nearly 41 million Americans plan to celebrate the nation's birthday with a getaway, a slight decline from last year," said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet. "This projection is due to the calendar effect of one fewer day in the holiday period and economic growth that is not robust enough to offset the impact of the sequester and the effect of the end of the payroll tax cut on American families."

He added, "Independence Day is typically the busiest holiday of the summer travel season with six million more Americans traveling than Memorial Day just two months ago. The Fourth of July benefits from the fact that all schools across the nation are out of session, making it truly a time for family fun."

This year 46% of intending travelers plan to begin their trip prior to the start of the holiday travel period (July 3 to 7), compared to 65% last year. The largest share of travelers (32%) on a single day will depart on July 3 and the largest share will return on July 7 (38%). And 34% intend to stretch their holiday vacation into the following week returning on or after Monday, July 8.

Approximately 34.4 million people (84%) plan to drive to their destination, a decrease of 0.7% from the 34.7 million who drove last year.

Gasoline prices are unlikely to be a major factor in travel decisions this holiday. As of mid-June, prices were on average up 2% compared to the same time in 2012. Despite the slight increase compared to last year, prices remain below their highs of earlier this year. The current national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.60, 10 cents higher than last year.

However, gasoline prices remain at a level most Americans consider too high. Half of U.S. adults consider gasoline prices to be "too high" when it reaches $3.44 per gallon, according to a new consumer index developed by AAA; 46% of adults believe gasoline is too high when it reaches $3.00 per gallon; 61% when it reaches $3.50 per gallon; and 90% when it reaches $4.00 per gallon; 62% of Americans are offsetting high gasoline prices by changing their driving habits or lifestyle.

More than 3.07 million leisure travelers (8%) will arrive at their destination by air, a slight increase from last year's 3.06 million air travelers. The remaining eight% of holiday travelers are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.

According to the survey of intending travelers, the average distance traveled by Americans during the Independence Day holiday weekend is expected to be 613 miles, which is 110 miles less than last year's average of 723 miles. The decline is likely reflective of the shorter holiday period.

Median spending during the Independence Day holiday weekend is expected to be $747, compared to $749 last year. Transportation is expected to consume approximately 29 cents of every dollar. Travelers expect to spend 20% on food and beverage and 22% on lodging.

During the holiday weekend the most popular activities will be visiting with friends/family (57%), dining (49%) and shopping (44%). Other popular activities include going to the beach and sightseeing (36%) and 28% will celebrate the nation by visiting a national park or historic sites (21%).