More Americans are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend than last year, but economists and tourism experts say higher gasoline prices, air fares, grocery bills and the lingering effects of recession will keep the increase small and force most households to economize -- perhaps with shorter trips closer to home.
Some Long Island businesses said high travel costs could work to their advantage if they keep New York area residents nearby.
"If anything, it will be helpful for us, because people will tend to want to stay one tankful away from the New York metropolitan area," said Dede Gotthelf, owner of the 90-room Southampton Inn, where room rates range from $199 to $469 a night.
Travel and tourism, including restaurants, employs about 125,000 people on the Island in peak season, said Pearl Kamer, economist for the nonprofit Long Island Association, a business group.
Although gasoline prices are slowly falling with the drop in crude oil futures, the national average for regular was $3.905 Thursday and stood at $4.223 on Long Island, according to the AAA.
The AAA estimates air fares will be 14 percent higher next weekend than a year earlier, in part because of higher fuel costs. Hotel rates are expected to be 5 percent to 10 percent higher.
The group forecasts that almost 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over the holiday period that begins next Thursday -- slightly more than a year ago but less than the 35.3 million who traveled over Memorial Day weekend in 2007, before the recession. About 70 percent of travelers, the AAA estimated, will compensate for higher travel costs by taking shorter trips or economizing in other areas. Including gasoline, the typical family planning a trip also plans to spend 14 percent less this year than last or, just under $700.
At DeAngelis Rentals in Sayville, which has 18 recreational vehicles ranging from huge motor homes to pop-up trailers, owner Chuck DeAngelis says he is booked for Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July weekend -- just as he was at this time last year, despite gas costing about $1 a gallon more. "Believe it or not the issue is not coming into play," he said. "Reservations have been coming in slower only because of the weather. But people who delayed are missing out, because we only have so many RVs to go around."
George Gorman Jr., deputy regional director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said weather will be the main factor in attendance. "If we have the sun shining and temperatures in the high 80s or low 90s, the beaches and parks will be crowded," he said.
He's forecasting about 20 million visitors this year, about the same as last year.
At the Montauk Yacht Club, where room rates start at $300, the director of sales, Pam Assogna, said she anticipates an excellent weekend and summer season. "We are sold out," she said. "We have a waiting list for Friday, so it really looks good." One of the three largest hotels in Montauk, it has 103 rooms and a 232-slip marina.
At Pindar, a popular Peconic winery, Rose Faiella, manager of the tasting room, said shorter trips "will help us out."