By Chris Kahn -- AP Energy Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — After a plunge in gas prices, Americans are expected to hit the highways in larger numbers this Memorial Day, giving the traditional start of the driving season a boost for the first time since 2005, AAA said.
An estimated 32.4 million people — roughly 11 percent of the U.S. population — will take some kind of trip over the holiday, most of them on the road. That's an increase of 1.5 percent from last year's dismal travel season, when pump prices rose above $4 a gallon and millions of people stayed put.
On Tuesday, retail gas prices averaged $2.25 a gallon, about $1.47 a gallon cheaper than a year ago, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Prices have increased 17 cents a gallon in the last week, but experts believe we are near a peak for the year.
Travel researcher Ken McGill used a combination of surveys and economic models to make AAA's forecast. Many respondents told McGill that they were lured by hotel discounts and cheaper gas.
It also appears that many Americans have been suffering from an extended case of cabin fever, McGill said. Because of high gas prices and the souring economy, many people have stayed home during the past few years.
"There's a bit of pent-up demand out there," he said.
Still, McGill said he expects the recession will leave the tourism industry with a particularly miserable summer.