Memorial Day weekend could set 'record low' travel numbers

This sign at the intersection of Campground Road and U.S. Route 40 in LaVale shows the price of gasoline. The average price across Maryland on Wednesday was $1.98.

CUMBERLAND — Fewer people are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend, AAA Mid-Atlantic says, another byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, a year after a record 918,000 Marylanders took a 50-plus mile trip for the unofficial start of summer, this year will be much different.

“With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low,” said Suzanne Aresco, director of travel sales at AAA Club Alliance, in a press release.

The previous recorded low for travel over a Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA, was 2009. That came on the heels of the Great Recession, when an estimated 31 million people traveled.

“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day weekend — the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” Aresco said.

For the first time in 20 years, AAA didn’t release a travel forecast because the pandemic undermined the economic data used to create it.

Gas prices are expected to be down a good deal for Marylanders from an average of $2.77 during the holiday weekend last year. The average in Cumberland then was $2.87. On Wednesday, the average in the state was $1.99; in Cumberland, it was $1.88.

“Gas prices around Memorial Day have not been this cheap in nearly 20 years, said Ragina C. Ali, manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, in a press release. “However, as the country continues to practice social distancing, this year’s unofficial kick-off to summer is not going to drive the typical millions of Americans to travel,” said Ali.

AAA has seen an increase in bookings since mid-April and anticipates domestic vacations to rebound some. In a survey conducted in March prior to many COVID-19 related shutdowns, “90% of the 173 million Americans who had summer vacations on the books planned to take a U.S.-based vacation,” AAA said.

When deciding how and where to travel, AAA expects people “will gravitate to road trips and family bookings including air, car, hotel and activities to destinations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico” and, when international travel restrictions are lifted, will want to travel internationally to tropical destinations.

Because of concerns about flying and cruise ship travel related to COVID-19, Ali said, “we recognize that people will likely be taking more road trips, where there’s a level of control. Gas prices are cooperating as well.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that people stay home and avoid nonessential travel.

Through the end of May, AAA Mid-Atlantic is providing free roadway assistance to health care workers and first responders, Ali said.

Follow staff writer Brandon Glass on Twitter @Bglass13.

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