Holiday travel ramping up

Published 10:33 pm Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Predictions of high travel volumes this Christmas season seem to be coming true, both on the ground and in the sky.

Representatives with AAA Tidewater Virginia and the Norfolk Airport Authority already are seeing travel volumes pick up as local residents visit far-flung family and friends or receive guests at their own homes.

“We’re expecting more traffic this year than we experienced last year,” said Wayne Shank, executive director of the Norfolk Airport Authority. “This weekend will be busy.”

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Shank predicts a “slight increase” during the next couple weeks from the same time period last year. Thanksgiving travel last month was up about 4 percent from 2009, he added.

“It’s kind of difficult to predict,” Shank said. “I think it is a good indicator that we should probably expect to see a slight increase.”

Nationwide, AAA predicts about 3.1 percent more Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 than did so last year. About 93 percent of all travelers will drive to their destinations. Three percent of holiday travelers will take to the skies, while the remainder will use such modes of transportation as rail or bus.

AAA Tidewater attributes the rise to people having more confidence in the modestly improving economy.

“The economy is strengthening slowly, but seems to be strengthening,” said Georjeane Blumling, vice president of public relations for AAA Tidewater Virginia. “Even though the economy’s still slow, that’s what people are kind of hanging their hats on.”

Blumling added that Christmas travel traditionally withstands economic challenges that damper other holidays.

“People tend to make plans to get together with family or take that vacation at Christmas,” Blumling said.

The longer season also gives more people an opportunity to travel, Blumling added.

“I think the reason for that is that people will make the effort and spend the money because this holiday is a more important one for family and friends,” Blumling said.

Back at the airport, Shank attributed the increase in travel to the recovering economy and good deals on tickets.

“A lot of people will actually be traveling on Christmas Day, because the airlines run pretty good deals,” he said. “That wasn’t necessarily the case in past years.”

Return trips begin Sunday, for those who have to work on Monday, and continue through next week, Shank said.

“We’ll see people filtering back in all of next week,” he said. “A lot of people have decided to extend their time [at their destination].”