High gas prices put the brakes on travel

WASHINGTON Restaurants may be hurting this summer as record-high fuel prices keep more Americans from traveling.

AAA had projected a 0.9-percent decrease in travelers for the Memorial Day weekend, with 37.9 million Americans expected to travel at least 50 miles away from home. According to data from AAA and the Travel Industry Association, this would be the first dip in Memorial Day traveling in at least eight years.

Most of those travelers, or 31.7 million people, will do so by car, AAA said. Motorists will spend more at the pump, with the national average price for regular gasoline at $3.78 a gallon, which is 39 cents more than a month ago and 68 cents more than a year ago, the association said.

According to AAA's Leisure Travel Index, car rental rates for the weekend were expected to shoot up 45 percent, to an average of $45 a day. Fuel prices also have affected air travel for the holiday weekend, AAA said, with anticipated average air fares rising 8 percent, to $179.

The fear among operators is that fewer people traveling, coupled with tighter spending by travelers when dining out, will hurt restaurants' bottom lines.

"Countless businesses large and small across the United States depend on the summer leisure traveler for a large portion of their annual revenue," said Robert L. Darbelnet, president and chief executive of AAA. "This spring high gasoline prices appear to be dampening our society's intent to travel. If a trend toward higher gas prices and fewer travelers were to continue, it would eventually harm travel-dependent companies that provide employment opportunities and tax revenues in almost every city and town in America."