published Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

More holiday travelers this year

While Memorial Day is a solemn holiday with rituals all its own, many Americans see the day as more than a time of remembrance. For decades, it's been considered the unofficial start of summer and the vacation travel season. The upcoming holiday weekend is no different, though it promises to be busier this year than last.

According to the American Automobile Association's annual survey, more Americans will travel this Memorial Day than last. That trend, the survey indicates, will continue into the summer, though there will be minor changes in travel patterns. More people will take to the roads, rails and waterways in 2012, slightly fewer will travel by air.

In addition, the average distance traveled by vacationers, particularly by automobile, is projected to decline slightly. Most survey respondents said the price of gasoline would not impact their holiday or vacation plans. They say they'll pay for gas and try to balance the travel budget by traveling slightly shorter distances and searching for reasonably priced attractions, accommodations and food. That's especially good news for Chattanooga and the surrounding region.

Chattanooga has much to offer travelers of all ages and interests. Moreover, it meets the current demands of most of those -- particularly families -- that travel by automobile. The region is well-served by accessible highways, is within reasonable driving distance of millions of Americans, and provides, as numerous national publications have affirmed, a lot of bang for the buck when it comes to attractions, lodging and restaurants.

That's proved to be the case in the past and it is proving to be true this year.

"Spring break is sometimes a gauge for the upcoming summer travel season," says Bob Doak, president of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We had a great spring break and the numbers for the first quarter have been good. We are expecting a great Memorial Day and summer." There's reason for such optimism. Gas prices seemed to have peaked -- about 25 cents per gallon lower now than this time last year -- and the overall economy continues to improve. Both are important considerations for those traveling this summer.

AAA projects that about 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the upcoming Memorial Day holiday -- defined as Thursday through Monday. Millions more will follow before the Labor Day weekend that marks the end of vacation season. If recent reports and surveys are accurate, Chattanooga and the surrounding region will host a fair share of those travelers.

They are certainly welcome, both for their willingness to visit and for the economic boost they provide the city and the region.

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