Economic woes to bite into July 4th travel

Wed Jun 24, 2009 2:31pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. travel over the Independence Day holiday weekend will drop 1.9 percent this year compared to 2008, a casualty of higher fuel prices and economic worries, travel and auto group AAA projected on Wednesday.

Approximately 37.1 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, typically the busiest time for auto travel in the U.S., down from 37.8 million last year.

"Many Americans remain cautious about the outlook for their personal finances and these attitudes are reflected in the slight decline in travel we are forecasting for the upcoming holiday weekend," said AAA Chief Executive Robert L. Darbelnet.

Ongoing fears about the state of the economy coupled with increasing joblessness and falling incomes are major factors in reducing Fourth of July travel, AAA said.

Auto travel, which will account for 88 percent of total travel, will drop 2.6 percent from last year's levels due to higher fuel prices. But air travel, which will account for just 5 percent of Fourth of July travel, will increase 4.9 percent due to lower fares and pent-up demand. Other modes of travel will account for the remaining 7 percent of travelers.

Gasoline prices are more than 30 percent lower than they were a year ago, but recent increases at the pump will steer Americans away from road trips, AAA said.

Attractive airfares are also likely to contribute to less auto travel, AAA said.

On Tuesday, average U.S. retail gasoline prices were $2.68 a gallon, about 11 percent higher than a month ago, although they have steadied in the last ten days, according to AAA.

Travel for the rest of the summer will hinge in part on whether gasoline prices continue to rise or level off, according to AAA.   Continued...

<p>Fireworks illuminate the sky next to a U.S. national flag at the new U.S. embassy during its opening ceremony in Berlin July 4, 2008. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz</p>