Summer Forecast: Sunny Days Ahead as Gas Prices Fall

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How quickly things can change. Last month at this time, we were worried about gas prices soaring past $4 and $5 a gallon this summer. Now a week before the summer travel season kicks off with Memorial Day Weekend, prices have steadied and even dropped, and all signs point to a lucrative summer of leisure travel.

A survey from TripAdvisor indicates 86% of U.S. travelers are planning a leisure trip this summer, up from 81% a year ago. A third of the 1,800 survey respondents said they planned to travel for Memorial Day, up 8% from last year. Gas prices, now declining, weren't a factor in summer travel planning, according to 86% of respondents.

Deloitte's summer travel survey yielded similarly positive results: 31% of the 1,000 consumers surveyed said they planned a Memorial Day trip, up from 24% a year ago. Beyond next weekend, 54% say they will take a trip from June 1 through Labor Day, up slightly from 52% last year. The survey said the cost of travel remained a concern, and many (66%) noticed increases in airfare, but only 16% altered their destinations or travel method as a result. The good news? Only 24% of the expected travelers said they'd spend less on lodging, down from 35% last year.

AAA projects 34.8 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during Memorial Day weekend, up slightly (1.2%) from 2011. The survey found gas prices weren't a deterrent for hitting the roadways, but only 7% of holiday travelers planned to fly, down from 12.5% last year. And like Deloitte, AAA's Leisure Travel Index indicated hoteliers would be getting a boost from room rates. AAA's Three Diamond lodgings should expect an 8% increase in rate, up to $160 a night, and Two Diamond properties can expect a 10% boost to $120.

The national average price of gas had declined 28 straight days as of earlier this week, according to AAA, and is now 22 cents lower than the April 6 peak average of $3.94 a gallon. Gas a year ago at this time was just under $4 a gallon. (One word of note for readers out West, prices on the Left Coast are going in the other direction, according to this USA TODAY story. California's average price per gallon is $4.37, almost a full dollar ahead of Florida's ($3.59).)

It's not time to dance in the streets, but falling gas prices and consumer feedback like this are certainly positive signs as summer approaches.

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