The travel industry is expecting to recover slightly from a dismal 2009 this Labor Day weekend, a pattern that should continue into the autumn.
“We are looking at a partial recovery from last year’s steep decline,” said Marie Montgomery, a spokesperson for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “Fewer people are affected by the economy and more people are willing to spend on travel.”
Southern California’s Labor Day weekend travel is expected to increase 11 percent to 2.5 million travelers from last year’s 2.26 million, according to the Auto Club. The news is particularly good for Los Angeles County where travel and leisure is tops, according to the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The travel and leisure industry employs more people than any other industry in town,” said Carlo Martinez, a bureau spokesperson. “The great part is that more and more people are taking vacation near home. This bodes well for business here and the surrounding counties.”
Statewide, 4 million residents are expected to get away this weekend, also an 11 percent increase over last year. Nationally, 34.4 million are expected to travel, which is a 9.9 percent increase over 2009.
Overall, fall travel is expected to increase 13 percent, according to Trip Advisor, the nation’s largest online travel hub.
“We are expecting a really strong fall for travel,” said Amelie Hurst, a spokesperson for Trip Advisor. “People are finally ready for
Trip Advisor based its prediction on a survey that included more than 200,000 members.
Hurst noted that 78 percent of people surveyed by Trip Advisor say that the economy is not a factor in making travel plans this fall.
According to Montgomery, this trend can be attributed to growth in consumer confidence.
“Last year, even people that had not lost their jobs or were not really affected by the money crunch felt it was not a secure time to spend on travel,” she noted. “Now we are seeing people feeling secure enough to spend on travel.”
The Conference Board, a nonprofit organization that analyzes key business trends, said U.S. consumer confidence is trending slightly upward. The Consumer Confidence Index saw a 2.5 percent jump from July.
But Ken Goldstein, a Conference Board economist, said the slight increase is no reason to celebrate.
Goldstein admits that there should be a small increase in travel this year compared with last year, but he doesn’t see any significant changes in consumer confidence to merit the travel industry’s high expectations for the coming months.
“The good news is that things haven’t gotten worse, but high expectations this travel season can only be attributed to wishful thinking,” he said.
Goldstein added that expectations for Memorial Day weekend were also unrealistically high.
“I didn’t see the travel industry dancing in the streets after Memorial Day,” he said. “The only difference between now and then is a drop in gas prices, but that is a pattern that happens every year.”
The number of travelers expected this weekend is 3.8 percent below the average number of Southland residents who took Labor Day weekend trips between 2000 and 2009, according to data provided by D.K. Shifflet and Associates, a travel and tourism research firm.
The Auto Club figures 2010 will not be a banner year, but Montgomery said the improvement is a positive sign that confidence is improving.
She added, however, that most people are still looking to maximize savings when they travel.
“Auto travel is going up because it is the least expensive way to travel,” she said. The Auto Club is predicting that more people will travel by car than any time in the past decade.
In Southern California, 91 percent or 2.2 million travelers are expected to drive to their destinations, an 11.6 percent increase over last year’s 1.98 million car travelers. Nearly 196,000 local residents are expected to fly, a 5.7 percent increase over last year.
The Auto Club describes a Labor Day trip as a getaway at least 50 miles away from home with an overnight stay.
Top destinations for Southern California travelers this holiday include Las Vegas, San Diego and Santa Barbara. Nationwide, Cape Cod, San Francisco and New Orleans are among the top 10, as is San Diego.