published Friday, August 30th, 2013

Gas prices up ahead of Labor Day travel weekend

Welcome Center assistant Franklin O'Neal, left, gives directions to Sheila Tidwell and her grandson Austin while they stopped at the rest area off Interstate 75 in East Ridge. The Tidwell's were traveling to Richmond, Ind., for Labor Day weekend.
Welcome Center assistant Franklin O'Neal, left, gives directions to Sheila Tidwell and her grandson Austin while they stopped at the rest area off Interstate 75 in East Ridge. The Tidwell's were traveling to Richmond, Ind., for Labor Day weekend.
Photo by Patrick Smith.

LABOR DAY TRAVEL

• 25 percent of travelers will go betwen 50 and 150 miles from home

• 9 percent of travelers will go more than 1,500 miles from home

• 46 percent of travlers will visit with friends or relatives

• 93 percent will travel by plane or car

Source: American Automobile Association

Jerry Lewis and his wife, Anna, packed up their RV Thursday to make the drive from Georgia to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for a Labor Day camping trip.

They're meeting friends from Ohio and plan to do a little fishing, a little shopping, a little sitting around the fire.

"We're just going to socialize and sit around the campground," Lewis said, adding that the week's spike in gas prices didn't change his plans. "You just try to go somewhere and then stay there for a while."

Lewis is one of 34.1 million Americans expected to travel more than 50 miles from home this weekend, a 4.2 percent increase from last year and what could be a new post-Recession high, according to the American Automobile Association.

The typical traveler will travel almost 600 miles this weekend and spend about $800.

"Our travel has been down some for the last few years, but it's starting to pick back up," said Fraklin O'Neal, assistant at the I-75 Welcome Center. "The economy is slowly starting to get better and people are getting more confident about traveling."

And while gas prices have spiked about 9 cents in the Chattanooga area this week, the average gas price was 25 cents per gallon lower than last year's Labor Day average, according to AAA's fuel gauge surveys, and isn't expected to have a major impact on travel.

The weekend marks the last summer hurrah for many Americans, and local businesses are gearing up for a busy three days.

"We start picking up Friday afternoon and it stays full through Monday evening," said Dan Potter, general manager at Big River Grille. "We do about three-fourths of a week's sales in three days."

He added that it's been a busy summer at the downtown restaurant, especially with the season's unusually high amount of rain.

"The rain drives people from outside to inside," he said. "Instead of cooking out, they come into the restaurant. We've had a great steady flow of guests."

At the Chattanooga Ducks, which offers boat tours of the river, the company lost 27 days of tours to rain this year. But revenue is still up by 15 percent.

"The Ducks have been in town since 1998 and last year was the best we've ever had," said captain Barry Cole. "This year we're over last year and we missed 27 days. We couldn't understand it, we did the math four or five times."

On the whole, tourism is on the rise in Hamilton County. The county crept into fourth place for tourism spending in the state in 2011, with tourists dropping about $893 million. And hoteliers booked an all time high of 156,000 room nights last fiscal year, according to the Chattanooga Convention & Vistor's Bureau.

About 85 percent of the weekend's travelers will be driving, according to the AAA, and only 8 percent will fly. That's traditionally good news for Chattanooga, which caters to a drive-in market.

Rakia Haynes, general manager at the Comfort Inn in Chattanooga said he hopes to capitalize on those holiday drivers.

"Labor Day weekend is usually a big travel weekend," he said. "We're looking forward to getting some of that transient traffic off the interstate. We've got a lot of people traveling to and from Florida who stop here. It's a halfway point from just about anywhere."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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