43 Percent Of Area Residents Will Travel 50 Miles Or More From Home Over The Holidays, Mostly By Automobile Despite Much Higher Pump Prices
This Christmas 2.5 million Washington area residents, a staggering 42.6 percent of the local population, will travel 50 miles or more from home to celebrate the holidays in the places of their own nativity, AAA Mid-Atlantic is projecting. That’s the largest projected number of travelers from this area for any major holiday this year, according to AAA, the largest leisure travel organization in the nation and region.
“It will be an exodus of Biblical proportions,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “This means four out of ten Washingtonians will be traveling during the 12-day holiday period. That’s utterly amazing. All-in-all, it is the second highest number of local holiday travelers we’ve seen during this entire decade. And it shouldn’t be minimized, even when you consider the fact that the number of Washington area residents who plan to travel this season will actually decline by 4.2 percent, compared to those who traveled at this time last year.”
Even in the face of much higher pump prices than a year ago, the vast majority of area residents, 2.2 million Washingtonians, who plan to travel this holiday season will do so by automobile, AAA Mid-Atlantic is projecting.
That also deserves special attention, the auto club spokesman noted. “Although that’s a decline of 3.6 percent since this time a year ago, that’s still an amazing 37.1 percent of the local population who will travel fifty miles or more from home by automobile during the 12 days of Christmas travels.”
Since the bulk of Washington area travelers plan to travel by automobiles for the holiday, the price of gasoline might be the biggest single economic factor for the slight decrease in travelers, the AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman noted. The current price of a gallon of gasoline is 94 cents higher then it was a year ago when a record number of Washingtonians, 2.6 million area residents, to be exact, traveled during the twin holidays. This time around, local travelers will spend $934 on average per household, including an average of $149 on fuel, during their holiday trips, AAA’s Leisure Travel Index reveals.
The airline ticket counters at the three regional airports will take a hit this holiday season, as the number of Washingtonians traveling by air dips by 5.3 percent, in comparison to a year ago. Still, 117, 000 local residents will board aircrafts to travel to their holiday destinations far and wide. That’s two percent of the local populace. In contrast, an even larger number, an estimated 206,682 Washingtonians, 3.5 percent of the area’s populace, will use other modes of transportation, including rail and buses, or in some cases multiple modes of transportation, to reach their holiday destinations.
Eighty percent of all local travelers plan to visit friends and relatives during their trips. Although the overall number of holiday travelers will actually increase 3.8 percent across the nation, the regional economic situation, including the state of the local financial and housing markets and job markets, will have the greatest impact on individual travel decisions in various regions.
That appears to be the case in the South Atlantic region, which includes Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland, where the number of person-trips will decline by 4.7 percent. That’s the second largest regional decline in holiday season travel in the nation (In contrast, holiday travel will decline 4.8 percent in the mountain states). While the Greater Washington SMSA boasts the highest median household income level and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the United States, its residents are not immune from the vagaries of the economy.
“Many area residents are still dealing with a variety of financial woes during the protracted economic downturn, including joblessness and the foreclosure crisis, which hit the hardest in pockets of the Outer Suburbs (Prince William County, in particular) and the Inner Suburbs (with Prince George’s County at the epicenter),” Townsend explained. “With these worries, some families and individuals won’t have the merriest of Christmases. It is any wonder we are also seeing mixed signals when it comes to their travel plans for the holiday?”
Both in terms of regional differences in holiday travel plans and in the overall numbers, fewer Washingtonians, Virginians, and Marylanders plan to travel this holiday. Yet the District, Virginia and Maryland will generate the highest percentage of travelers in the entire nation, as a share of the population, according to AAA’s travel projections.
Consider this, 42.6 percent of the residents in the Greater Washington area will travel during the holiday, the highest share of the population in the country. As to the states, Virginia will have the second highest share in the nation with 38.1 percent of the local population expected to travel, AAA is projecting. What is more, Maryland will have the third highest share in the nation, with 36.6 percent of its population planning to travel fifty miles or more during the holiday season.
Another factor to weigh is the desire to save money and to cut back as a hedge against the recession. “Although our region is one of the most stable in the nation, Washingtonians are picking and choosing which holiday they will celebrate miles from home. If they traveled at Thanksgiving, they may stay home for Christmas or vice versa. For the first time in many years a large segment of the population is making very hard and, in some cases, last minute choices between traveling during one holiday or another.”
Nationwide, AAA is projecting 87.7 million Americans will be traveling 50 miles or more away from home during the year-end holidays. As mentioned, this is a 3.8 percent increase from the 84.5 million Americans who traveled during the same Christmas /New Year period one year ago. Nationally, that constitutes the largest projected increase in travelers for any major holiday this year.
The number of travelers by automobile is expected to be 77.7 million in 2009, compared to 74.4 million last year. That’s an increase of 4.4 percent. The number of travelers by air is expected to be 4.2 million compared to 4.1 million in 2008. That’s an increase of 2.9 percent. The number of those traveling by “other” means, including, trains, watercraft, buses and multiple-modes of transportation, is expected to be 5.8 million compared to 6.0 million last year, AAA said.
Last year, the total number of travelers during the year-end holidays was 84.5 million; a decline of 4.7 percent from 2007. Like other holiday travel indices, travel distances will vary from region to region. Still, the average Christmas/New Year traveler who hails from the South Atlantic region, including Washington, D.C., will travel 870 miles roundtrip, compared to an average of 791 miles nationwide. Regionally, an estimated 28 percent will journey between 701-1500 miles roundtrip.
A quarter – an estimated 24 percent – of local residents will travel over 1500 miles roundtrip during the period. Twelve percent will travel between 401-700 miles roundtrip and another 12 percent will travel between 251-400 miles. Meanwhile, 17 percent plan to travel between 151-250 miles, while seven percent will log between 50-150 miles.
According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index – a monitor of pricing in 20 popular cities across the US for hotel and car rentals, as well as 40 pairs of cities for air travel pricing - the lowest average published airfares over the year-end holidays period are expected to increase two percent from last year to an average of $179 per roundtrip ticket.
Car rental rates also will increase. It’s up two percent to an average of $50 per day for a mid-size car versus $49 per day last year. Rates for AAA Three Diamond lodgings are expected to be 10 percent less than last year with travelers spending an average of $119 per night. Travelers planning to stay at AAA Two Diamond lodgings will pay 6 percent less than last year; an average of $86 per night. These are the lowest average lodging rates for this time period since 2004.
Of the 2.5 million Washingtonians who will be traveling during the holidays, 37 percent with travel as couples, and 35 percent will travel with their children. Since the beginning of the decade the number of Washingtonians traveling during the year end holidays has increased by nearly one million persons, soaring from 1.7 million residents in 2000 to 2.6 million residents in 2008, an all-time high, according to data from IHS Global Insight, which conducts travel research for AAA.
AAA’s projections are based on research conducted by IHS Global Insight. The Lexington, Mass.-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA earlier this year as part of an agreement to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays. AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades. For purposes of this forecast the year-end holidays travel period is defined as trips that include travel of 50 miles or more away from home during the period from Wednesday, Dec. 23 to Sunday, Jan. 3. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2009 year-end holidays forecast can be found at AAA.com/news.