With Fourth of July falling on a Wednesday this year, taking a trip for the holiday is looking like a more attractive options for many travelers.
Granted, gas prices trending down and summer temperatures inching up will also motivate people to get out of town for the coming holiday. But experts say that the rare Wednesday national holiday is the biggest motivator for the bump in holiday travel.
“The primary reason is that people have so many travel options,” said Wave Dreher, a spokeswoman for AAA Colorado.
The organization is projecting about a 5 percent spike in travel compared to last year among mountain region travelers, which include Colorado residents. That means about 3.1 million mountain region residents taking a trip 50 miles or more away from home.
Nationwide, 42.3 million Americans are projected to travel, a jump similar to the increase locally.
The projections are based on a survey of likely travelers.
Dreher said the Wednesday holiday is a big motivator because it gives travelers the option of taking a long weekend before the holiday, a long weekend after the holiday, or taking off the whole week and book-ending it with two weekends.
“That’s the primary reason, second would certainly be lower gas prices,” she said.
According to AAA, gas prices in metro Denver are hovering around $3.67 for a gallon of unleaded, just below the statewide average of $3.71. Those figures are up from a year ago, when Denver averaged $3.58 per gallon and the state averaged $3.61, but down from the spring when gas prices neared $4.
In March, the national average for a gallon of unleaded was $3.93 per gallon.
Local motorists have noticed the drop, but say they’d still like to see it come down further.
“They’re coming down,” 56-year-old Freddie Barnes said as he filled his tank at an Aurora gas station this week. “Not as fast as I’d like, but they are coming down.”
Barnes said he doesn’t have any travel plans this holiday.
“I gotta work, so I’ll stay close to home,” he said.
According to AAA, 54 percent of people traveling this holiday plan to begin their trip the weekend before the Fourth.
The bulk of travelers — about 79 percent — will travel by car this holiday. In the mountain region, that means 2.5 million people plan to hit the roads, a 3.6-percent increase over last year.
About 10 percent of travelers will fly to their destination, a 9.4-percent increase over 2011.
AAA attributes that spike to the mid-week holiday and flat airfares year over year.
Local travelers will cover an average of 826 miles on their holiday trip, up 149 miles from the Memorial Day average of 677 miles. The increased distance is also the product of the longer holiday weekend, AAA said, because travelers have more days to take a longer trip.
Travelers will spend an average of $164 per night on lodging, compared to $157 last year.
Median spending is expected to be $648 compared to $652 for the 2012 Memorial Day weekend, AAA said.
Dreher said the survey shows travelers are on the lookout for good deals when they travel, even if it means something as simple as free wireless internet at a hotel.
“People are saying, ‘I’m going to travel anyway, I’m just going to spend less as I travel,’” Dreher said.
A little more than half of travelers plan to visit family and friends during the holiday weekend, with 43 percent planning to attend a festival of some type, 34 percent planning to go boating and 31 percent planning to visit a state or national park.
Dreher said the recent rash of wildfires around Colorado will have an impact on travelers who plan to head to a park for camping.
“We know visiting state and national parks is huge for Fourth of July,” she said. “Most people that do camp have provisions for if there are fire bans, but that could change some people’s plans.”
Reach reporter Brandon Johansson at 720-449-9040 or [email protected]