Despite a surge in gas prices, Chattanooga area attractions expect heavy Memorial Day traffic on the back of a strong economy and the city's closeness to key markets such as Atlanta and Nashville.
"Half our guests come from the local area. The other half comes from typical drive markets," said Thom Benson of the Tennessee Aquarium. "A smaller percent comes from other markets passing through to other destinations."
Some projections show the spike in gas prices, up more than 60 cents a gallon for regular unleaded in Chattanooga over a year ago, will crimp travel this holiday and into the summer months.
GasBuddy's summer travel survey shows that only 58 percent of people said they'll take a road trip over the next three to four months. That's down 24 percent from a year ago, the survey showed.
› Regular: $2.63
› Mid: $2.88
› Premium: $3.16
› Diesel: $2.88
› Tennessee: $2.69
› Georgia: $2.79
› Alabama: $2.63
› National: $2.94
Source: AAA Fuel Gauge Report
But AAA is forecasting a near-record travel season, with more than 41.5 million Americans getting away. That's nearly 5 percent more than last year and the most in more than a dozen years, it reports.
Henry Schulson, the Creative Discovery Museum's executive director, said that while gas prices are up, they're still well below record highs of a decade ago of more than $4 per gallon.
"Gas prices are one factor," he said. "The economy is doing very well. I hope gas isn't a factor this year."
Meagan Jolly of Rock City Gardens said it's expecting a lot of visitors, as the Memorial Day weekend is typically one of the Lookout Mountain attraction's busiest.
Overall attendance so far this year is up over last year, she said. Jolly said Rock City has five vital markets within about a two-hour drive from Chattanooga — Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham, Huntsville and Knoxville.
"We really focus on and pull from those ZIP codes," she said.
People in Chattanooga on Wednesday had mixed views about whether the run-up in the price of fuel will change travel plans.
Mike Madalo of Chattanooga said higher gas probably won't affect his summer.
"It's not that much of an impact," he said.
But Patricia Madalo of San Diego said she thinks a lot of people will change their minds about travel due to gas costs. The national average for gas is up 16.1 cents per gallon in the last month, according to GasBuddy.
Still, Ben Houston said he doesn't think the cost of gas "will impact us at all." He said he's from Alaska and the price of gas is higher there than in Chattanooga.
Benson said the Memorial Day weekend for the aquarium last year was "really robust" and he's expecting similar results over the next several days, though not necessarily an increase.
"For this summer season, [the aquarium projects] flat attendance. No significant increase over 2017," he said.
To help woo visitors, some attractions are kicking off special events. At the aquarium's IMAX Theatre, for example, a couple of new films are launching, including "We, the Marines" and "Oceans 3-D: Our Blue Planet," Benson said.
At the Creative Discovery Museum, Schulson said, a new exhibit related to Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood is opening.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Transportation is suspending all construction-related lane closures on interstates and state routes beginning at noon Friday through 6 a.m. Tuesday to aid travel over the long weekend.
"Suspending construction-related lane closures during the busy Memorial Day weekend will lessen congestion and delays on Tennessee's major highways," Commissioner John Schroer said.
Motorists still may encounter some lane closures or restrictions while traveling through long-term construction projects.
A record 246.1 million passengers are expected to fly during the summer season, a 3.7 percent increase over a record set last year, according to Airlines for America, a trade group for the nation's biggest airlines.
Contact staff writer Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.