On one of the most heavily traveled days of the year, travel by Wilkes-Barre area residents was expected to be below the national average, according to a travel club official.
“The economy has been the factor in Wilkes-Barre area residents’ travel decision this year, with fewer travelers for every major holiday,” said Catherine L. Rossi, manager of public relations and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
“The effects of unemployment as well as hits to household discretionary spending have had a definite effect on holiday travel. While we see a slight rebound in travel nationally, locally, residents are still holding back,” Rossi said.
While AAA estimated that travel of 50 miles or more during the Christmas/New Year’s travel period would increase about 3.8 percent from last year nationally, AAA Mid-Atlantic estimated that 50-mile or more trips among area residents would be down about 2.5 percent from last year.
One factor could be gasoline prices. The average price of gas locally last year on Dec. 25 was $1.73 per gallon, compared to $2.60 per gallon on Sunday.
In addition to higher gasoline prices, travelers from the Wilkes-Barre area and across the country are seeing higher airfares and car rental rates, but lower lodging rates for the year-end holidays, according to Rossi.
Rossi said the recession hit the Northeast more slowly than it did the nation as a whole, so it makes sense that the Northeast will take longer to recover.
“People are mailing gifts rather than making a long trip and visiting their families, as they did five years ago. The economy is still holding people back in terms of spending and discretionary travel,” Rossi said.
“The desire to spend Christmas with family over the holidays is traditionally strong, but, in our area, concern over the economy and family budget is even stronger,” she said.
AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts the following travel trends over Christmas and New Year’s.
Locally (from 2008 to 2009)
• 71,250 area residents plan to travel for the holidays, a decrease of 2.5 percent.
• 62,580 plan to go by car, a decrease of 2 percent.
• 3,770 plan to go by plane, a decrease of 3.3 percent.
Nationally (from 2008 to 2009)
• 87.7 million Americans plan to travel for the holidays, an increase of 3.8 percent.
• 77.7 million plan to go by car, an increase of 4.4 percent.
• 4.2 million plan to go by plane, an increase of 2.9 percent.