Experts say Labor Day travel may be lighter than normal

Friday, August 29, 2008

High gas prices are expected to keep travelers from Southeast Missouri and nationwide closer to home over the Labor Day weekend.

AAA estimates that nearly 34.38 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home during the Labor Day weekend. That's a decrease of almost 320,000 Americans who traveled over the holiday weekend in 2007 and the first decline in Labor Day travel since 2006.

"More travelers concerned about the economy, gasoline prices and rising airfares are opting to travel by train, bus, motorcycle and cruise ship to their holiday weekend destinations," AAA president and chief executive officer Robert Darbelnet said in a news release.

Carolyn Kempf, travel consultant at Elite Travel and Cruise in Cape Girardeau, said Amtrak is becoming a more popular option for travelers from Southeast Missouri. Kempf said the most popular trips by train are New Orleans or Chicago via Carbondale, Ill., an hour's drive from Cape Girardeau.

Though a roundtrip ticket to Chicago costs about $170 for the Labor Day weekend, fares to the Windy City normally can be found for as low as $32 for a one-way ticket.

"The bottom line is the cost," said Kempf, whose business is up 15 percent compared to the same time period in 2007. "The train may not be the fastest way to get there, but it's safer and cheaper than taking your car. With gas prices the way they are, a person couldn't drive and eat a meal in Chicago for the low cost of a round-trip ticket."

Numerous area attractions will maintain normal operating hours. The Red House Interpretive Center, Old St. Vincent's Church, the Glenn House and the Cape River Heritage Museum -- all in Cape Girardeau -- are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, but are closed Monday.

Chuck Martin, executive dir. ector of the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, predicts if the weather forecast is favorable, more people will take advantage of outdoor activities.

Those attractions include Trail of Tears State Park, east of Fruitland, open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday to Monday; the Conservation Campus Nature Center in Cape Girardeau, open 8 am. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday but closed on Monday; and numerous parks throughout the region.

Another popular destination, the Burfordville Covered Bridge at Bollinger Mill Historic Site in Burfordville, is closed for repairs until mid-September, but the site itself is still open sunrise to 10 p.m.

"Travel is discretionary income, and people are having to [adjust] their budgets accordingly," Martin said. "And that will benefit all of the attractions this area has to offer."

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