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Friday, Nov 21, 2014
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Floridians plan to travel this summer

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To kick off the summer travel season, some 36.1 million Americans are expected to travel just on Memorial Day weekend – a new post-recession high, AAA reports.

Air travel is also expected to increase nationally this summer by 1.5 percent over 2013 to about 2.28 million people each day – a six-year high, according to the trade and lobby group, Airlines for America.

The cost to fly is also going up. AAA reports that travelers can expect to see 6 percent higher price for airfares. The average round-trip discounted air fares for the top 40 U.S. routes are jumping to $227 from $215 last year.

Still, airport bookings out of Tampa International Airport are expected to increase slightly this summer over last, or about 0.5 percent, said airport spokeswoman Janet Zink. That accounts for about 4.1 million passengers traveling in June, July and August out of Tampa’s airport, she said.

So far, increases in travel costs aren’t holding people back from booking vacations and meetings in Tampa, said Liana Lopez, director of communications for Visit Tampa Bay.

“We are on a record pace,” Lopez said. “April 2014 has been a record year for us with bed tax collection,” said Lopez, referring to the tax collected with the rental of each hotel and motel room in the county. “We collected over $3 million. That’s 10 percent more than the previous record in April 2007. So, for the first seven months of our fiscal year, county bed tax collections are at $13.9 million, or 6 percent ahead of last year and 30 percent above 2010.

“I would think that is good news for the summer, too. It seems like tourism is strong,” Lopez said. “We have picked up meetings and conventions for the summer. The trend is going in the right direction.”

The state’s gas prices are looming just above the national average — $3.65-$3.74 per gallon in Florida, versus $3.64 per gallon nationally. Prices went up this spring with the influx of spring-breakers and baseball fans and according to the Energy Information Administration, Florida gas prices are expected to hover around $3.48 for Memorial Day weekend.

“This marks the third consecutive year that AAA data shows a steady summer travel season in Florida – a positive sign for the travel industry,” said Jessica Brady, with AAA Travel, The Auto Club Group. While theme parks, beach getaways and city destinations top 2014’s travel scenarios, most people have not yet finalized summer plans, she said.

The Memorial Day travel projections mark a 1.5 percent increase from the 35.5 million people who traveled over that holiday weekend in 2013. AAA delineates Memorial Day weekend as Thursday, May 22 to Monday, May 26.

Of those expected to travel at the end of May, eight in 10 will drive to their destinations. Eighty-eight percent of the expected 31.8 million summer travelers will take their vacations in automobiles, AAA reports. That is a slight increase over 2013 when 31.4 million traveled by car.

Between June 1 and Aug. 31, about 210 million passengers are expected to fly on U.S. carriers.

The largest increase in travelers are those taking cruises, trains and buses. That travel group is expected to increase by 6.5 percent this summer, for a total of 1.7 million, according to AAA.

The AAA Leisure Travel Index says travelers should expect 2 percent higher rates at mid-range hotels and a 1 percent increase over last year for car rentals.

Hotel rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to increase just 2 percent from one year ago, with travelers spending an average of $169 per night compared to $166 last year. The average hotel rate for AAA Two Diamond hotels is up 3 percent, or about $124 per night.

Weekend car rental rates will average $44 a day, a 1 percent increase over 2013.

“A long and unusually harsh winter gave many Americans the travel bug,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Combine rising temperatures with signs of an improving economy, and travel for the holiday should hit a new post-recession high.”

“Hotel and car rental reservations are filling up fast for Memorial Day,” Brady said. “Now is the time to make your Memorial Day travel arrangements to ensure you get what you want for the price that fits your budget.”

“Consumer spending, disposable income, consumer confidence and the employment outlook are trending up which is welcomed news for the travel industry,” Jenkins said.

A tough winter hindered economic growth early this year, but economic factors influenced by weather, such as car and home sales, appear to be improving, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

yhammett@tampatrib.com

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