Traffic

Fewer North Carolinians to travel for Independence Day

Posted June 30, 2008 1:47 p.m. EDT
Updated June 30, 2008 5:49 p.m. EDT

— Fewer North Carolinians will be hitting the roadways and the airlines this July Fourth weekend than did last year, according to AAA Carolinas.

Slightly more than 1 million North Carolinians will hop in their cars, a 1.3 percent decrease in the number of July Fourth road travelers from 2007. Nearly another 95,000 North Carolinians will fly, a 2 percent decrease from a year earlier.

Those estimates mean that for the first time since 2001, July Fourth holiday traffic won't increase from the prior year.

AAA officials said the decrease in travelers is likely due to record-high gas prices. On the last day of June, a gallon of regular unleaded gas cost an average of $3.999 in North Carolina – up 23 cents since Memorial Day and $1.10, or 38 percent, since July 4, 2007.

“The high price of fuel may be forcing many travelers to change their vacation plans,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “With barrels of oil trading at new record highs almost daily, it is unknown whether gas prices will stabilize or decrease this summer."

AAA officials said they were surprised at one finding: A quarter of North Carolinians plan to travel more than 1,000 miles round trip. Since more than half plan to leave early in the week, the heaviest travel day of the weekend will be Sunday, July 6.

“Even with high fuel prices, many Carolinians still plan to travel, many for longer distances and for longer periods of time,” Parsons said. “July Fourth is a traditional family vacation time and the heaviest travel holiday of the summer.”

Travelers will likely cope with higher gas prices by cutting other costs, perhaps staying with friends or in less expensive accommodations, Parsons said. He said many hotels and attractions are offering discounts to lure vacationers.

Those arriving at the airport will also face higher prices – from increased fares to new charges for checked luggage, window or aisle seats, snacks and drinks, and reservations made by phone.

“The decrease in air service, in addition to anticipated longer delays and route cancellations, may cause some travelers to stop flying over busy holidays,” Parsons said.

The 2008 holiday travel numbers were based on research from surveys and a forecast model developed by the Travel Industry Association, which conducts special research for AAA. The data was collected by an online survey of over 2,000 adults nationwide and supplemented by an additional 6,500 Americans surveyed from the top 10 travel origins in the nation.