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More taking trips this holiday season

More Americans will take a year-end holiday trip this year than last year — despite falling consumer confidence, but perhaps buoyed by lower gas prices — the auto association AAA said earlier this month.

AAA projects 94.5 million Americans will take a trip of at least 50 miles sometime during the holiday period — a 0.6 percent increase from the estimated 94 million last year.

The motor club federation defines the holiday period as Saturday, Dec. 21 to Wednesday, Jan. 1.

Last week, Becky Bariola, Superintendent at Mount Magazine State Park, said the park will be full or close to it for the Christmas and News Year’s Day holidays.

“Right now, we’re 75 percent booked for Christmas, which is about normal,” Bariola said. “For New Year’s, we still have 11 rooms left and we’ll book those. Two days before the holiday, we’ll be turning people away. It’s because of the party.”

The party is Midnight on the Mountain, a New Year’s Eve party that features a prime rib buffet dinner with music and dancing afterward. This is the fourth year for the event and Bariola said it’s grown in popularity each year. You don’t have to have a room to participate, either, Bariola said. Tickets to attend the event are $50 per person.

AAA said the more Americans are traveling this holiday season to keep up with tradition.

“While economic growth has stagnated and consumer confidence has fallen Americans will not be Scrooges when it comes to traveling this year,” AAA Chief Operating Officer Marshall L. Doney said. “AAA is projecting more Americans to travel than ever before to gather with friends and family, exchange presents and ring in the New Year.”

The group said 91 percent of travelers will go by automobile, an increase of 0.9 percent from last year. But holiday air travel, it said, is expected to drop slightly to 5.53 million passengers from 5.61 million last year.

AAA said it expects drivers to pay less this year for gasoline. Prices hit a multi-year low of $3.18 per gallon on Nov. 12 but have risen slightly since, it said.

The holiday period comes as the unemployment rate, at 7%, is at its lowest level in five years. But a CNN poll released last month showed only 24% of the public believed economic conditions are improving, while nearly four in 10 said the nation’s economy is actually getting worse.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Confidence Index, calculated by the Conference Board, has declined two months in a row.

AAA said the calendar is one reason that travel is expected to pick up this year. Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Wednesdays, giving travelers the option to start their trip earlier than they would otherwise, or extend through the following weekend, the group said.

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