Record number of travelers to hit the road |

Record number of travelers to hit the road

Despite a sluggish economy, electricity crisis and high gas prices, the American Automobile Association anticipates a record number of travelers to hit the road this weekend.

The Lake Tahoe and Reno region makes the grade as one of the top three hotspots for northern California motorists, AAA reported of the official kickoff to the summer season.

“It’s traditional for Memorial Day weekend travelers to want to go outside, and Lake Tahoe is usually on that list,” AAA Northern California spokesman Atle Erlingsson said from his San Francisco office.

Yosemite National Park and Disneyland in Anaheim – which is sold out over the weekend – also made the list.

“We don’t expect today’s economic uncertainty and record-high gas prices to keep travelers from taking their traditional Memorial Day vacations,” Erlingsson said. “Californians may not be in a big spending mood, but they are in a big travel mood.”

One in eight of Golden State residents will travel this weekend, with 88 percent using automobiles. That is up 5 percent from last year. The remainder will use air, train or bus as the mode of transit.

More than 4.2 million Californians indicated they plan to travel at least 50 miles or more from home for the long holiday. That’s up 100,000 people from last year, even though the average price of a gallon of self-serve, unleaded gasoline – at $2.02 – tops the nationwide average by 32 cents.

About 34 million Americans are expected to travel over the holiday weekend across the nation.

Many local tourism officials hope travelers will consider the basin as a quick escape from the heat.

The Lake Tahoe and Tahoe-Douglas visitors authorities have teamed up to launch a proposed summer promotional campaign with that objective in mind.

Temperatures in the Central Valley and in parts of Nevada have topped the triple digits lately. Reno broke a record Wednesday with 94 degrees.

“This seems to work very much in our favor. If (the temperatures) move our drive market, then that’s a good thing,” said Bill Chernock, Zephyr Cove Resort director of marketing and Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce president. “It all depends on the weather.”

“It’s heating up big time, and we expect it will drive people up here,” said Dan Shideler of the Tahoe Rental Connection.

The vacation-rental management company has piggybacked off the warm temperatures and threatened power outages elsewhere to book its 127 properties throughout the summer.

“If they don’t come up when it’s 102 degrees (in the Central Valley), they’ll never come up,” said South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association President Charlie McDermid, who just experienced the soaring temperatures on a recent trip to Folsom.

However, McDermid has heard mixed results on bookings projections from individual hotels and motels.

“It’s not a pretty picture. They’re very disappointed in May so far,” he said, adding lodging property managers are “anxious” about the upcoming holiday weekend. “There’s a strong probability that good motels won’t fill up Saturday.”

Agency spokesman Justin Yax reported on behalf of the LTVA what appears to be a strong showing for Lake Tahoe properties. His client, the Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe, is almost full for Friday and Saturday nights, with some availability Sunday night.

“This is the long weekend everybody’s been waiting for, as the first summer holiday,” Safeway Store Manager Bob Vukobradovich said.

Staffing at the supermarket remains steady, but the store has set up its specialty islands with beverages and chips to cater to the holiday crowd.

The Strawberry Lodge west of Echo Summit plans to open this weekend.

If the visitors don’t show up as anticipated, there’s always the sure-shot holiday – the Fourth of July, Tahoe-Douglas Chamber Executive Director Kathleen Farrell said.

The chamber recently arranged to use rear-view mirror hangers in rental cars operating out of the Reno/Tahoe International Airport to promote the area over the summer.

“It doesn’t generally get going until the last week of June,” Lakeside Marina Manager Roger Gadsbury said.

Gadsbury approaches this holiday with cautious optimism, but he has staffed up by a few people to handle a possible influx of people.

Like many others, he returned to the weather as the driving force.

“I’ve been here for nine years, and I haven’t had a good one yet,” he said.

The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies Friday with afternoon winds and the highs in the mid-70s and the overnight lows in the 40s, the National Weather Service reported.

Temperatures will remain the same over Saturday, with a cooling period starting Sunday. There’s a slight chance of thundershowers that afternoon, prompting words of caution from the bureau’s meteorologist to boaters on the lake to be prepared to take cover.

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