Looks like Labor Day travel will get a real bounce this year, buoyed by more stable gas prices, some great airfares, and a few special circumstances -- including some media-savvy Great White sharks off Cape Cod.
AAA projects that the number of Americans traveling this Labor Day weekend -- Sept. 2 through Sept. 6 -- will increase 9.9% from 2009, with approximately 34.4 million travelers taking a trip at least 50 miles away from home.
"We are still not at 2008 levels, but it's really good to see an increase over last year," Heather Hunter, a spokesperson for AAA, tells Marketing Daily. Last year, 31.3 million Americans hit the road. And if the holiday had fallen a little earlier in the month this year, even more people would be traveling.
Cape Cod, Mass., which was named one of the top 10 Labor Day destinations by TripAdvisor.com, is one region experiencing a bit of a boom.
"We're looking for a better-than-average Labor Day weekend," Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, tells Marketing Daily. "Historically, it's sort of a soft landing for us. We have such a huge family base, and it's the weekend that can get swallowed up by back-to-school activities. But they are calling, and they are coming -- we don't usually sell out on Labor Day and we don't expect to this year, but some of our luxury properties are close to full."
Cape tourism has gotten an unlikely boost from a few Great White sharks that are getting plenty of news coverage in the area, normally considered too chilly for the creatures. Tourists have flocked to beaches, cameras in hand, hoping for a "Jaws"-like glimpse. Whale watches and seal watches are already popular in the area, she says, "and if the water continues to stay warm and the seal population is robust, the sharks will continue to be around."
In addition to the Cape, TripAdvisor's survey named Mackinaw City, Mich., Outer Banks, N.C.; San Francisco; San Diego, Calif.; Seattle; Destin, Fla.; Las Vegas, New York, and New Orleans as top destination for weekend escapes.
And Travelocity says it is seeing air travel spurred by lower fares.
"Labor Day weekend is the least expensive holiday weekend of the summer to fly," Travelocity senior editor Genevieve Shaw Brown tells Marketing Daily. "That, combined with hotel rates that are on par with the lows of 2009, makes it a great time to take an affordable vacation. For people who gave up on summer trips because they thought travel was too expensive, it's time to take another look."
While Travelocity's most-booked destinations are Las Vegas, New York, South Florida, Orlando and Seattle, Brown says travelers are getting the best deals in Orlando, Atlanta, Boston, Reno and St Louis, where hotels are priced anywhere from 4 to 14% lower than last summer's rates.
AAA says 91% of people will travel by car, a gain of 10.3%, while leisure air travel is expected to account for just 5% of overall travel, an increase 4.6%. Median spending is expected to gain by $50, to $697.