WASHINGTON – More than 620,000 Arizonans will drive at least 50 miles for holiday travel this weekend, slightly more than the 610,000 who hit the road last Memorial Day, according to a forecast by AAA.
“We’re definitely seeing that people want to get out there and they want to travel,” said Stephanie Dembowski, a spokeswoman for AAA Arizona.
That travel will be fueled by lower gas prices – though not as low as at this time last year – and it will be undertaken largely by childless adults heading to parks and lakes in the cooler regions of the state.
“Any park that’s got a recreational component to it is going to be very busy,” said Arizona State Parks spokeswoman Ellen Bilbrey.
Gas prices have retreated from their uncomfortably high levels in March, just in time for the holiday weekend. AAA estimates a gallon of regular gas in Arizona currently averages $3.769 per gallon. That’s down from $3.893 back in March but slightly higher than this time last year, when gas averaged $3.695 a gallon.
Gas prices are generally highest in Arizona’s higher elevations. At Williams, just west of Flagstaff, GasBuddy.com reports prices ranging from $3.99 to $4.09 per gallon of regular, although the Sam’s club in Flagstaff is charging $3.55 per gallon.
Tucson has some of the state’s cheapest gas, with prices from $3.51 to $3.55.
Most of those hitting the road this holiday will be adults without children. AAA estimates that in the Mountain Region, families will make up just 27 percent of Memorial Day travelers. Adults without children will comprise the remaining 73 percent of holiday travelers this weekend.
Dembowski called that breakdown typical for Memorial Day. Families tend to travel more during holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving.
While travel should be up, talk about travel is already way up on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and blogs.
An IBM index that tracks social media chatter about Memorial Day showed a 46 percent increase in conversations about Memorial Day travel this year compared to last. IBM’s analysis of the data also indicates Americans are upbeat about this weekend.
Sara Delektra Galligan at IBM says it is the first time IBM has released the Memorial Day Social Sentiment Index. Data was obtained from social media sites for several months preceding Memorial Day 2011 and compared with data for the same period this year.
The index also said social media users were talking more positively about gas prices, even though prices were hitting new highs just five to six weeks ago. Positive comments about gas prices outnumbered negative ones by 5-to-1 in 2012. In 2011, the ratio was 1-to-1.
Bilbrey said this week that campsites in state parks in the cooler regions of the state are all booked up for the weekend, along with cabins and yurts in those parks. She attributes that in part to the department’s online reservation system that began this year.
At Lake Havasu, she said, 1,000 boats were launching each day this week, a number that was expected to continue into the weekend.
“You got outdoor air that’s hot and water that’s cold enough that it feels fantastic when you’re swimming in it,” Bilbrey said.