The unofficial start of summer is off to a roaring start this Memorial Day weekend, despite rising travel costs and COVID-19 concerns.
“We’re going to have 1.2 million more people traveling,” said Jim Garrity, director of public affairs for AAA. “It’s almost 7% more than last year. Consumers are ready to travel again, especially those who didn’t make a trip last year, maybe haven’t seen certain members of their family or friends for a couple of years. They’re thinking to themselves, ‘This is the year I’m going to get back out there.’”
Of course, those who want to get away are dealing with a few factors that may cause some hesitation, such as the price of airfare and gasoline.
According to figures released by AAA, the lowest average airfare is 6% more than last year and mid-range hotel rates have increased by about 42%.
And gasoline prices have eclipsed 2021’s numbers in a big way.
According to AAA, the average price of gasoline in Western Pennsylvania the week of May 22 was $4.70 per gallon. The average price during the week of May 24, 2021, was more than $1.50 less – $3.178 per gallon.
This week’s average price of unleaded self-serve gasoline was $4.699 in Washington and $4.687 in Uniontown.
“Airfare and gas are out of sight right now,” said Sandy Davis, owner of Davis Travel Agency in Monongahela. “I was looking for someone for airfare to Florida and it was $800. That’s crazy. It’s just ridiculous.”
Still, she said, more people are booking trips this year than the last two years. COVID fears seem to be less.
“I just came back from Europe and you would never know it,” Davis said. “I was in five countries in 12 days, and really you would never know it.”
Carl Brandtonies, owner of Worldview Travel in Washington, also said more people are traveling but said the rising gas prices may curtail that a bit.
“We’re seeing more people going out, but the gas is going to start affecting it and airfares are starting to grow,” he said. “They’re looking to book trips, but the airfares are starting to increase pretty good right now.’
Garrity said AAA conducted a survey in February as gas prices began to climb.
“What we found is that around the $4 mark is when consumers would start making changes in their daily habits and behaviors so they could still prioritize things like travel, summer road trips, vacations, going to see family and friends, maybe now more than ever for consumers who haven’t been able to do so over the last few years,” he said. “Despite those higher gas prices, more people are traveling.”
Something that did occur during COVID was the rediscovery of the outdoors. Local attractions such as Mingo Creek County Park should be quite popular throughout the summer.
“If the weekend turns out to be a beautiful weekend with the weather, I have no doubt that Mingo is going to be packed with people,” said Lisa Cessna, Washington County planning director.
Cessna said permit applications for Cross Creek Park Lake have increased, especially for motorized boats, paddle boats and kayaks. Plus, shelter rentals are going strong.
“It used to be just the fisherman’s lake, but now we have a lot of people doing some recreational activities that we had never seen before,” she said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a shelter on the weekend throughout the summer. There are still some available during the week. We’re pretty much booked solid with all of our shelters on the weekends throughout the summer.”
Bret Moore, Greene County’s recreation director, said there was solid participation in outdoor events, as well as good crowds at the Greene River Trail during the pandemic. Now, it’s picking up even more.
“Most of our events are very well-attended,” he said. “The drag races are scheduled for the airport (Sunday), and we’re assuming there’s going to be a very large turnout.
Moore also said pavilion rentals and pool parties are booked throughout the better part of the summer.
It does seem as if people want to be out and about again.
“Our travel advisers have been very, very busy, and a lot of the time it’s just people calling in and asking what’s available,” Garrity said. “The wanderlust is starting to take hold and the urge to go out and go anywhere – a lot of people are starting to feel that again. It’s exciting to see.”