A projected 2.94 million Southern Californians will take Labor Day trips this year, down from last year’s 3.38 million travelers. Of those, 2.34 million, or 79 percent, are expected to drive to holiday destinations, while 169,000 will go by air.
Statewide, 4.7 million travelers are expected – also a 13 percent decrease compared to last year’s 5.4 million travelers. Of the California travelers, 3.76 million are expected to go by car and 271,000 are expected to take plane trips. And nationally, holiday travel also is projected to drop by 13 percent, from 45.1 million to 39.1 million this year.
The significant projected travel decrease from last year cannot be blamed totally on the economy, according to AAA. Travel data providers for AAA say that much of the decline is because of the fact that late Labor Day holidays typically lead to a lower number of travelers. Sept. 7 is the latest Labor Day date, which is when the holiday falls this year.
Another factor, according to IHS Global Insight, was record gas prices in spring and early summer of 2008 that caused would-be Memorial Day and July Fourth travelers to postpone their summer getaways until Labor Day, when gas prices had dropped below $4 a gallon in Southern California.
As a result, despite last year’s economic troubles, 2008 was the second-largest Labor Day holiday travel period for Southern Californians, second only to the 2003 holiday. In 2003, a similar phenomenon occurred: many travelers anxious about the start of the Iraq war postponed their Memorial Day and July Fourth vacation plans, then traveled during Labor Day in record numbers. The next Labor Day weekend in 2004 saw a significant decline in travelers – from 3.5 million to 2.2 million in Southern California – both because the previous year had set a record and because the 2004 holiday occurred relatively late, on Sept. 6.
“There’s no doubt we are seeing the effects of the economy on holiday travel, but significant other factors are also playing a role in the downturn,” said Auto Club spokesperson Jeffrey Spring. “Even though airfares are 17 percent cheaper than they were a year ago, local air travel for Labor Day is projected to decline nearly 20 percent compared to last year – and much of that may be due to families who are reluctant to travel long distances after school has already started.”
The top five destinations for Southern California travelers this holiday weekend, according to a survey of travel agents in the Auto Club’s 75 district offices, are:
1) Las Vegas
2) San Diego
3) San Francisco
4) Central Coast
Gas prices for Labor Day travelers will be 80 cents cheaper than they were at this time last year, giving motorists a $12 savings on a 15-gallon fill-up.
The Auto Club recommends the following tips for Labor Day travelers:
- Get on the road early. Typically, outgoing traffic will be heaviest both Thursday and Friday in the afternoon and evening. Heavy incoming traffic can be expected Sunday afternoon.
- Check your vehicle’s fluid levels, belts, hoses and tires.
- Pack plenty of fluids and activities for youngsters for long trips.
- Plan your route ahead of time and bring along a map or GPS system in case you need to choose an alternate route. Motorists can call the California Highway Information Number at (800) 427-7623 for interstate and state route lane closures and highway closures. The information is updated hourly.
- Take care with your children by properly using safety belts and car seats, and accompany them into the restroom during travel breaks.
- Choose a well-lit, populated area for rest stops when driving at night.