UT predicts more Tennessee travelers over holiday weekend

J. H. Osborne • Sep 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The Tri-Cities area is one of two hot spots in the state for increased tourism this holiday weekend, according to a study out earlier this week.

Tourism statewide will be up for the Labor Day holiday, compared to last year, according to a first-ever such study released earlier this week by the University of Tennessee Tourism Institute.

That news is in contrast to nationwide travel projections from AAA for the holiday period.

AAA estimates that 34.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, almost the exact same number that traveled last Labor Day.

“Many Americans are facing household budget constraints this summer, which may be affecting holiday travel,” noted Don Lindsey, public affairs director of AAA East Tennessee. “Labor Day has traditionally been a slower holiday weekend for family travel because many schools have already started. But this year families appear to be concerned about the travel costs associated with an end-of-summer vacation, which may mean Americans aren’t canceling previously planned trips but are not planning to travel more than they did last year.”

AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator (FuelCostCalculator.com) helps travelers determine how much their drive trip will cost by factoring in the make and model of their car, and the distance to the final destination.

According to AAA:

•Labor Day travel, nationally, has been sluggish since 2005, when 34.8 million traveled over the holiday weekend. According to the Travel Industry Association (TIA), travelers’ perception of higher costs for fuel, lodging and airfares have resulted in the small growth in Labor Day travelers from 2006.

•Approximately 28.9 million travelers (83.5 percent of all holiday travelers) expect to go by motor vehicle, just under the 29 million who drove a year ago.

•Motorists will find gas prices nationwide currently averaging $2.745 for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline — down about 15 cents from a month ago and about 10 cents lower than last year.

•The most Labor Day travelers will originate in the West with 9.1 million, followed by the Southeast with 8.1 million; Midwest, 6.4 million; Northeast, 6 million; and Great Lakes, 5.1 million.

•Cities and urban areas top the list of preferred destinations this holiday with 30.4 percent of travel volume. Oceans and beaches rank next, with 19.8 percent, followed by small towns/rural areas, with 16.5 percent. Theme and amusement parks can expect to see 11.1 percent of holiday travelers, followed by mountain areas, 9.2 percent; lakes, 4.5 percent; and state/national parks, 3.6 percent. Another 5 percent responded with “other.”

According to the UT Tourism Institute:

•Using travel spending data for September from previous years and factoring in gas prices and earlier starts to school, the institute projects tourism spending over the long Labor Day weekend will increase 8.9 percent statewide over 2006 levels.

“By tracking tourist-related spending trends in Tennessee on hotels, restaurants, transportation and entertainment, it is clear Tennessee has continued to be a growing vacation destination for families during the Labor Day holiday,” said Institute Director Steve Morse, an associate professor in UT’s Department of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Morse attributed the rise in tourism spending to focused niche marketing efforts by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development the past two years that have been fueled by an increase of $4.5 million in funding from the state legislature.

“The increased marketing budget has definitely enabled us to more effectively spread the word about our state and its world-class attractions, wonderful scenic beauty and great Southern hospitality. People love to come to Tennessee,” said Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

•The Smoky Mountains area and the Tri-Cities area are expected to see the biggest increase for the 2007 Labor Day holiday at 11 percent.

•For Nashville, Labor Day spending is expected to increase 2.2 percent. Memphis could see spending up by 1.5 percent, and Knoxville could rise 9 percent. Spending in Chattanooga could be up 7 percent.

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