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AAA Projecting Late Labor Day to Affect
Travel and Hospitality Industries by 13% Decline

By Lori Weisberg, The San Diego Union-TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 27, 2009--Summer's last hurrah, Labor Day, comes late this year, a factor that's likely to dampen out-of-town travel throughout the country at a time when the hospitality industry continues to take a beating.

That's the word from AAA, which is projecting roughly 13 percent less Americans traveling over the Sept. 3-7 long weekend and the same percentage decline for the Pacific region, which includes California.

"Last year, Labor Day was Sept. 1, so it allowed many families to schedule long vacations before their children went back to school, but this year, many children will have returned to school, and that's going to pull down the number of travelers significantly," said Elaine Beno, a spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Nationwide, about 39.1 million travelers are expected to take a trip of 50 miles or more from home, while in the Pacific states, the number is projected to be 6.2 million, of which 4.9 million will be traveling by car, according to IHS Global Insight, a Boston economic research and consulting firm that analyzed the travel trends for AAA.

In San Diego County, hoteliers are more upbeat about prospects for the Labor Day weekend, projecting relatively full hotels, particularly Saturday night. Room rates, though, will be lower, and travel deals still abound, said Joe Terzi, president of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"The sentiment I've gotten from the hotels is they're still expecting to have a pretty strong weekend," Terzi said. "They say they will be as busy as they have been in the past for Labor Day, but will tail off Sunday and Monday. The revenue, though, will be down because the rates are down across the board."

Occupancy rates at the swank W Hotel downtown should be 90 percent or more, said General Manager Stan Kaminski, adding that special discounts are helping attract visitors. One advertised special offers 20 percent off two-night stays over the holiday weekend.

"As we get close to the actual holiday, people realize they want to get away, even if it's for a one- or two-night stay, and they'll start searching the online travel agencies to find the best deal they can," Kaminski said.

"Bottom line, our occupancies have stayed relatively stable this summer, but at all hotels, the average daily rates have been down."

San Diego hotelier Mike McDowell was less enthusiastic, saying he expected this Labor Day to be more challenging for the hospitality industry than in years past because of its later arrival. Still, it will be the one bright spot in an otherwise slow September, he added.

"There are rooms available for Labor Day, and probably more at this point in the calendar than we typically see," said McDowell, vice president of corporate affairs for Atlas Hotels, which includes the Town and Country Resort in Mission Valley and the Kona Kai on Shelter Island.

"As we've seen all summer, people are being very conservative, watching their discretionary dollars and looking for the best deal."

Despite the expected decline in Labor Day weekend travelers, this year should be the third-strongest this decade, the Automobile Club reports. And because of lower gas prices this year than last, a greater share of holiday vacationers nationwide will be traveling by automobile, according to the forecast.

Yesterday's average price for a gallon of gasoline in San Diego County was $3.03, compared with $3.87 a year ago, according to the Southern California Auto Club.

"Continued job losses and the state of the economy continue to dampen the household's ability and desire to take a trip, but there will be some people who will decide that with lower fuel prices this year, they'll make a trip or they're going this year because they didn't go last year," Beno said.

Union-Tribune

Lori Weisberg: (619) 293-2251;

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Copyright (c) 2009, The San Diego Union-Tribune

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