Survey: Rising fuel costs won't stall driving season

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WASHINGTON -- Rising gas prices won't be enough to keep travelers off the road Memorial Day weekend, according to a survey sponsored by the Travel Industry Association (TIA) and AAA that foresees a strong travel season this summer.

"Summer will start with a bang with a very strong Memorial Day," Suzanne Cook, the TIA's senior vice president of research and technology, said at a press conference here. "And this momentum will carry us through the summer."

The TIA is projecting that Americans will take 334.5 million person trips of 50 miles or more from home this summer, up 3.2% from the same period last year.

"We believe that at long last a real recovery in travel is clearly under way," Cook said. "For the first time since 2000, we have seen several months of positive results."

Cook predicted travel would continue to trend upward even as gasoline prices rise. Sandra Hughes, AAA Travel's vice president, said 1 million more people are expected to travel during the three-day Memorial Day weekend this summer than did the same time last year.

"Despite gas prices that have never been seen before, we expect that a record number of Americans [30.9 million] will drive this Memorial Day weekend," she said, adding that a survey of some 1,000 Americans show few if any are planning to cancel trips due to rising gas prices.

However, she said, travelers may take shorter trips or use more fuel-efficient vehicles when going long distances.

Ultimately, Hughes said, rising gas prices have relatively little impact on the overall cost of a vacation. For instance, she said, the longest drive trip travelers expect to take is about 800 miles.

"If that average road trip is taken in a typical minivan getting 20 miles per gallon of gas, that 800-mile roundtrip will require 40 gallons of gas -- a $20 increase from last year," she said.

From that perspective, few travelers would cancel a trip to save $20, Hughes said.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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