Many feel an upturn in the economy is on the horizon after a AAA study showed an 8 percent increase in holiday travel from last year.
The AAA Northern California report indicates Californians may be willing to travel more than usual, especially during the holidays.
According to the survey, over 3.5 million state residents planned to travel 50 miles or more during Thanksgiving weekend.
The boost in travel is tied to improved consumer confidence, better financial markets and a sense among some consumers that the global economic crisis is over, AAA spokesperson Cynthia Harris said.
Over 3 million Californians were expected to travel by vehicle for Thanksgiving – a 9 percent increase from last year.
Despite airfares dropping by 4 percent, fewer people are flying, most likely due to added surcharges, fees, reduced capacity and fewer routes, according to the study.
About 267,000 Californians planned to travel by air, which is a decrease of 1 percent since last year.
Californians who traveled by air during the holiday weekend paid an average price of $170 per round trip ticket.
“This year’s expected increase in travel appears to reflect improved consumer confidence from one year ago,” Harris said. “[The increase reflects] better financial market performance and a growing sense among many consumers that the worst of the global economic crisis is behind us.”
UC Davis STA Travel store manager Leigh Depeters said it is difficult to tell whether travel will improve past the holiday season.
“People travel over the holidays to visit family,” Depeters said. “It’s tough to see if people are exploring or visiting family. I think a better comparison to see if more people are traveling would be summer travel because holiday travel is pretty consistent.”
Nationally, 38.4 million people were expected to travel 50 miles or more during the weekend, a 1.4 percent increase compared to last year.
Families that forego airports drive an average of 664 miles over the holiday weekend. Car rental rates are up about 7 percent compared to last year’s Thanksgiving weekend.
By staying with friends or family to eliminate lodging costs, an average West Coast family of four’s total average overall expenditures would be $817 over the holiday weekend, according to the report.
Patricia L. Mokhtarian, professor and associate director for Education of the Institute of Transportation Studies, was not surprised by the study.
“I expected air travel still to be a little down, and apparently it is,” Mokhtarian said. “The fact that auto travel is up is somewhat to be expected, because gas prices are ‘reasonable’ these days. I also think that there’s still some uncertainty about the economy, with unemployment as high as it is, but that in these uncertain times, perhaps people want to be with family and friends more than ever and make more of an effort to travel to see them.”
Mokhtarian believes travel will continue to mirror the economy.
“As the economy improves, travel will increase,” Mokhtarian said. “There’s a mutual causality at work – more travel is both an effect and a cause of a stronger economy.”
Susan Handy, professor in the UC Davis Transportation Technology and Policy Program believes travel has not risen overall.
“I’m not surprised travel is up, given somewhat lower gas prices than last year and perhaps some pent-up demand for travel after families cut back last year,” Handy said. “If gas prices don’t rise, and if the economy begins to pick up, then I would expect travel to increase as well. Daily travel – as opposed to holiday travel – has been down in the last year, as shown in national statistics and declines in congestion in metro areas.”
A local travel company reported more business in the past few months, following consumer and economic trends. Cheryl Strickland, travel agent for Davisville Travel, said the company has been a lot busier than two or three months ago, as she feels the economy is improving and people are feeling better about spending money.
The CHP has not changed any of its plans to address vehicle travel and is still sticking to its designated maximum enforced periods, according to CHP spokesperson Jamie Coffee.
“With more people on the road, it’s important to take extra precautions,” Coffee said. “Make sure to fasten your seat belt and get lots of rest before driving.”
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.