Travel is frequently an indicator of the health of the economy. It is often viewed as a luxury or an unnecessary expense and when times are tough, people generally sacrifice their travel to have some extra cash for other expenditures. However, with lower travel costs combined with a growing economy, travel may be placed higher on families’ priority lists. With the holiday season quickly approaching, travel is expected to increase dramatically for the remainder of 2017.
This year, AAA expects nearly 51 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more away from their home for Thanksgiving alone. This number is the highest volume of travelers since 2005 and is a 3.3% increase over last year’s travel numbers.While gas prices generally dip prior to Thanksgiving, this year the prices have continued to rise as the oil and gas industry still works on normalizing post-hurricanes. Even with the increased prices at the pump (as they hit the highest Thanksgiving period prices since 2014) travelers are willing to pay a bit more to visit family and friends for the holiday. Americans are expected to spend $800 million more on fuel for holiday travel this year compared to last year. In South Carolina alone, the price of gasoline is 32.5 cents higher per gallon this year than it was last year at the same time.
While the price of traveling by car has increased this year, the price of travel by air isn’t inexpensive either. The average cost of a Thanksgiving flight is $385 if booked by the end of October. The most congested cities for Thanksgiving travel are expected to be Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Miami.
Regardless of the high gas prices, projected travel numbers remain higher than they have been in years. AAA’s senior vice president, Bill Sutherland, credits the strong year for the travel industry to a strong economy and labor market that has fueled higher incomes and consumer confidence.
With this massive increase in holiday travel and spending in 2017, the country’s economy as a whole is bound to reap the rewards as well. The World Travel & Tourism Council noted that travel and tourism directly contributed to GDP growth by 3.1% in 2016. This growth was faster than the economy as a whole, which grew at 2.5% the same year.In addition to GDP growth, travel and tourism contributed to employment growth of 1.8% in 2016, which totals almost 2 million jobs. Looking ahead to 2017, travel and tourism’s contribution to the economy’s GDP is expected to grow even more by 3.5%. Much of that growth will more than likely come from this year’s holiday travel numbers.