By Richard Valdmanis
Americans will cut their Labor Day holiday travel plans dramatically this year to save money in a tough economy and to keep their children near home at the start of the school year.
Some 39.1 million travelers will take to the roads and airways during the end-of-summer holiday, down a record 13.3 percent from a year ago, according to a survey released on Wednesday by the AAA auto and travel group.
Light travel would spell bad news for the hotel and tourism industries expecting a rush of business and could put downward pressure on oil prices that have already taken a hit from ailing demand in the world's largest fuel consumer.
"This is obviously a very significant decline," said Geoff Sundstrom, spokesman for AAA. "Labor Day last year was the strongest in at least nine years, so we're coming off a very strong travel pattern."
AAA said that while job losses continued to weigh on vacationing, the main reason travel would slide during the upcoming September 5-7 holiday weekend is that it lands after many children will already be attending school.
"It is not only economic conditions that affect Americans' decision to travel," AAA said in a press release. "With Labor Day falling almost a full week later in 2009, many children will have returned to school."
Road travel during the holiday is expected to fall 11.8 percent while air travel is likely to fall 20.0 percent, according to the survey of 1,350 Americans conducted for AAA by IHS Global Insight.
The relatively small decline in road travel compared to air travel could be pegged to lower gasoline prices, running nearly 30 percent below a year ago, according to AAA.
In Scottsdale, Arizona, handyman and artist Bill Kurasz said the poor economy had cramped his travel plans. "I travel a lot, but I've had to cut that out this year," said Kurasz, 61. "I'll spend time with family and friends, low key."