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Friday, August 30, 2013

Labor Day Travel Update

After years of sticking close to home, are Americans in the mood to shake off the recession’s remnants and have a final summer adventure over the Labor Day weekend?

Here & Now speaks with NPR’s senior business editor Marilyn Geewax about the state of the travel industry — including cars, hotels and air travel — ahead of the last big holiday of the summer.




Well look at this, Labor Day weekend is upon us. Let's take a quick look at travel with Marilyn Geewax, senior business editor for NPR. Marilyn, what are you hearing?

MARILYN GEEWAX, BYLINE: Robin, I've been talking with some analysts and looking at consumer surveys, and it seems like it's a very positive outlook for this weekend. AAA, that's the auto club, their travel division said they expect about 34 million Americans are going to make a trip of at least 50 miles over this weekend. So they'll be going to the beaches, family reunions, whatever. But it'll be up about four percent over last year.

And another group, TripAdvisor, it's even more optimistic. They're calling for six percent more travel. So no matter who you're looking at, basically it shows that this'll be the best Labor Day travel turnout really since the recession began in 2007.

YOUNG: Well not that great if you're the traveler but great if you're a business on the receiving end. And can I assume that most of this, it's just a short weekend, most of this will be by car?

GEEWAX: Yeah, about 85 percent of the people who travel over Labor Day do it by car. And those people who are driving, they probably won't get hit with too much sticker shock at the pump. We're sort of used to it now. The national average for a gallon of gasoline is running around $3.60, at least that's what Gas Buddy is showing these days. And that's about 20 cents a gallon less than last year, when it was about $3.80.

So, you know, it makes it a little easier to plan a trip when you know that you're not going to get slapped with huge hikes in gas prices.

YOUNG: What about if you are flying?

GEEWAX: Well, that also is looking pretty good. AAA Travel says that people who are flying, there'll probably be about three percent more travelers. Like as you say, if you're the person in the middle seat, maybe that's not so great, but if you're an airline, they're delighted to see that about 2.61 million travelers will be in the air this weekend.

And some of them is good, though, for travelers. Travelocity says that the average round-trip domestic ticket is up only about one percent over last year. So that's about $335 for a round trip. You know, it's not bad to see prices rise only so slightly.

YOUNG: By the way, Marilyn, where do people go? What are some of the most popular travel spots on Labor Day weekend?

GEEWAX: Well, TripAdvisor says that about four in 10 people go to visit family and friends. So they really will go see that cousin and look for that guest bedroom. But about one in four like to get outdoorsy. They go on camping trips, maybe to a national park, and the rest of us are split between the ocean and the city. A lot of people like to come and visit Boston, that's very popular, New York City, Las Vegas. So we have some beachgoers and some urban visitors.

YOUNG: What about when you get to your destination, hotel bargains?

GEEWAX: No, you're not going to find a bargain there, sorry. Lodging costs actually are up quite a bit. Gasoline is good, the airfares aren't so bad, but the hotels, Travelocity says the typical U.S. hotel rooms this year are running about 12 percent more. So your best bet there is to find a cousin to visit, somebody who owes you something, and then look for that guest bedroom.

YOUNG: Well so this is Labor Day. What about the rest of the year?

GEEWAX: Well, Labor Day, generally speaking, isn't a huge travel time. You know, this most serious travel comes around Thanksgiving and Christmastime. So everybody in the industry is really watching for signs that this is going to be a good year as we continue to go forward. And, you know, there's reason to be very optimistic.

Last week the group that is the airlines trade association, they're called Airlines for America, they did their projection on profits, and they said in the first half of the year, airlines collectively made about $1.6 billion, and that's up a lot. Last year it was only $1.2 billion. So they see a lot of momentum.

YOUNG: Well in the meantime pack your bags because it's the weekend to go away. Marilyn Geewax, senior business editor with NPR, thanks as always.

GEEWAX: Oh, you're welcome.

YOUNG: Well, we will be doing Zen travel on Monday. We'll just be doing it in our head. We'll b here Labor Day, and I expect a terrific conversation with retired Army colonel and military analyst Andrew Bacevich. He has a new book out that makes the case for some sort of national volunteer program to bridge the gap between the military and the rest of America, which no longer faces a draft.

But of course we'll also ask him about the latest in Syria. That's Monday, Labor Day. And when we come back, remembering poet Seamus Heaney with Robert Pinsky. Latest news is next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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