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July Fourth travel to drop 2.4 percent in Florida, AAA reports

Economic instability will trump cheaper gas this July Fourth holiday, with more people choosing to stay home rather than hit the road, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Auto club AAA said it expects 37.1 million travelers — 12 percent of the U.S. population — to take a trip of 50 miles or more from home this year, a decrease of 1.9 percent from last year.

Travel by Floridians is projected to decline more sharply. An estimated 1.9 million Sunshine State residents will drive, fly or ride public transportation, down 2.4 percent.

Gasoline prices had risen every day for nearly two months until Monday, but remain far below last year's levels, when a gallon surpassed $4. National average pump prices are now 34 percent lower at about $2.68 per gallon.

AAA says the economy, particularly the rising unemployment rate and sagging personal incomes, is to blame.

Declining airfares, however, should bolster air travel by 4.9 percent nationwide and a healthy 5.8 percent in Florida, according to the survey.

Last year auto travel plunged 10.5 percent. Many people who did not take a trip last year when gas hit $4 per gallon said they will be traveling this year to shake their cabin fever.

Local AAA officials said gas prices peaked since the survey was completed in early June, and bookings at the group's travel agencies picked up.

"Perhaps there's more optimism than the survey data reflects,'' said Kevin Bakewell, senior vice president of AAA Auto Club South.

But compared with 2007, travel over the summer holiday is still down 12 percent.

Unemployment is at 9.4 percent and expected to top 10 percent, household income is dropping, and Americans saw their net worth fall by a staggering $1.3 billion in the first quarter amid declining home values and investment portfolios.

AAA projects that 88 percent of the trips, with 32.6 million travelers, will be made in a car, a 2.6 percent drop from last year. Cheaper air fares are part of the reason. About 2 million people are expected to travel by plane.

Travelers will spend about $1,160 per household for their trip. Transportation and accommodations will account for about half of the cost, with food and drinks taking 20 percent. The rest will be spent on shopping, entertainment and recreation.

Times staff writer Steve Huettel contributed to this report, which uses information from the Associated Press.

By the numbers

1.9 Percent forecast drop for U.S. in overall July Fourth travel from last year

2.4 Percent forecast drop for Florida in overall July Fourth travel

4.9 Percent forecast increase in U.S. air travel because of falling fares

5.8 Percent forecast increase for Florida in air travel because of falling fares

July Fourth travel to drop 2.4 percent in Florida, AAA reports 06/24/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 9:27pm]

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