NEW YORK —
The forecast for summer travel, 2013: Partly sunny.
Airlines, hotels and campgrounds are commanding higher rates and seeing more customers than a few summers ago, and luxury hotels are selling out. Local businessmen and state officials are optimistic.
But for a travel industry still stinging from the Great Recession, the best it can likely hope for is another summer of steady, but slow, recovery. The blockbuster crowds seen in 2007 have become a distant memory.
Americans' plans for summer travel mirror the current state of the economy. Rising home prices and a soaring stock market are encouraging those at the top of the income ladder to take more lavish trips. But large segments of the population are staying close to home because wages are stagnant, rents are high and the end of the payroll tax holiday has shrunk their take-home pay.
That's why AAA isn't expecting a resounding start to summer this Memorial Day weekend. Citing the "up and down economy," AAA expects 31.2 million Americans to hit the road this weekend, virtually the same number as last year. Throw in planes, trains and buses, and the number of travelers will drop about 1 percent, AAA says.
As vacationers set out this summer, here's what they can expect:
• Gas prices about the same as last year. The national average price of gasoline was $3.66 a gallon Thursday, 2 cents higher than during last year's Memorial Day weekend. Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at GasBuddy.com, expects prices to drift lower after the holiday and fall close to last summer's low of $3.33 per gallon before hurricane season starts to drag them up again.
• More expensive hotel rooms. The average hotel will cost $112.21, before taxes and any other add-on such as resort fees. That's up 4.4 percent from last year's $107.52, according to hotel research firm STR. Hotels are also expected to be slightly fuller, with occupancy rates climbing from 69.3 percent last summer to 70 percent this year.