Travel picking up this holiday: AAA figures point to improving state, national economy

The American Automobile Association estimates travel will be up 3.1 percent over the year-end holidays compared to last year, driven partly by an improving economy and pent-up demand.

AAA projects that 92.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Christmas and New Year's holiday period compared with the 89.5 million who traveled last year.

Don Lindsey, spokesman for AAA East Tennessee, said the chapter does not compile similar statistics for Tennessee, but sister chapter AAA Auto Club South projects that 1.9 million travelers will be on Tennessee roads over the holidays - a 3.7 percent increase from last year - and air travel in the state is expected to be up 3.1 percent, with 30,000 travelers.

"I think it is a good harbinger of the economy of our state," he said. "We certainly aren't where we need to be - we need more jobs, housing activity and other things - but what we are seeing in Tennessee looks good."

Becky Huckaby, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, which operates McGhee Tyson and Downtown Island airports, said the organization does not yet have figures compiled for December but expects air travel out of the Knoxville area to be up over the holidays.

"According to the airlines, we should be seeing a steady stream of passengers," she said.

Nationally, AAA estimates 2.75 million leisure travelers will fly during the holidays, marking a 2.8 percent increase from last year's 2.67 million air travelers. AAA projects that 93 percent of holiday travelers will take to the roads, 3 percent will fly and the remaining 4 percent will travel by rail, bus and other means.

Americans will also be traveling farther over the holidays, according to AAA, with the average distance 1,052 miles, compared with 791 miles last year. They will be spending slightly more as well, with a median amount of $694 compared with $670 a year ago.

Business writer Ed Marcum may be reached at 865-342-6267.

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