Did Americans drive more this Memorial Day?

June 1, 2010

Consumer confidence is perking up and with summer around the corner, Americans might be feeling a little more liberal with their travel budget, according to some trendwatchers and people in the travel industry.

“Our train counts are three times what they were last year,” said Bruce Brossman, director of reservations and sales at the Grand Canyon Railway, which expected to sell out on Memorial Day weekend.

The Grand Canyon itself typically draws large crowds over long holiday weekends, but secondary attractions like the two-hour scenic train ride up from Williams, Arizona, suffered in the recession.

Brossman says much of the rise in bookings was due to resurgent consumer confidence.

“Last year was a really tough time and people were really hunkered down and not spending discretionary dollars, and I think that there’s pent-up demand for travel,” Brossman said.

“Last year, everybody hunkered down,” said Tim Kirwan, general manager of the InterContinental Boston hotel, operated by InterContinental Hotel Group .

“They wanted the least expensive room rate and they essentially wanted to go across the street and get a coffee at the donut shop and forgo breakfast,” Kirwan added.

But this weekend, the hotel served 452 breakfast and brunch meals on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, nearly 10 percent more than the previous year, with guests paying $24 for breakfast and $32 for brunch.

“We were jammed,” Kirwan said. “There didn’t seem to be any hesitation at all in terms of spending up.”

The increase in spending may have extended to the gasoline pump– the Illinois Tollway, reported a 5.2 percent uptick in transactions over the holiday weekend (Thursday, May 28 through Monday May 31).

Experts say the uptick in travel is likely to continue through the rest of the summer.

Did you travel over Memorial Day weekend? Are you planning to spend more on travel? Will you travel more or less than last year?

(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman in New York, Andrew Stern in Chicago, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Tim Gaynor in Phoenix and Barbara Liston in Orlando)

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