PORTLAND, Maine — As Maine progresses deeper into its summer season, travel trends are looking optimistic, especially after a year that was devastating to tourism.
According to AAA, Monday afternoon is expected to be the busiest travel time of the Independence Day holiday weekend with overall forecasted numbers that are promising for Maine and the United States.
Some 47.7 million Americans were expected to travel 50 miles or more this holiday weekend, the second-highest forecast for the July 4 weekend AAA has seen, behind only 2019 by about 2.5 percent. Locally, AAA said about 2.48 million New Englanders were expected to travel.
Overall, these numbers represent a 20-40 percent rebound from 2020, with an increase in all modes of travel. About 92 percent of travelers are going by car, the highest number AAA has ever recorded. Gas prices are also the highest they've been since 2014 at about $3.12 per gallon nationally and $3.09 per gallon in Maine.
Experts say the higher prices and busier roads aren't deterring visitors, though. They said if you plan to hit the roads on Monday, you should remember to "pack your patience," buckle up, and drive impairment- and distraction-free.
"We have a strong economy, COVID restrictions are being lifted, and there's just so much demand to get out there," said Dan Goodman, manager of public affairs for AAA Northern New England. "We're kind of calling it revenge travel. All of these people are going to travel longer. They're going to spend more money and try to just get out there and enjoy themselves."
Trends have been positive at airports across Maine, too, as leisure travel increases. Experts say that's because a lot of people have saved money after a year stuck at home; there's pent-up demand for travel as people reunite with family and friends; and in Maine, significant progress has been made with reopening and vaccination rates.
Paul Bradbury, director of the Portland International Jetport, says as of June 30, the PWM was up about 3.11 percent on a seven-day rolling average, compared to 2019. Bradbury says in July 2021 versus July 2019, there are also about six percent more seats for sale into and out of Portland, as airlines recognize Maine's value as a market for leisure travel.
Tony Caruso, director of the Bangor International Airport, said their numbers are also recovering after 2020, down by about 15 percent in May 2021 compared to 2019 and 2018 numbers. Caruso says concessions, restaurants, and car rentals are all active and busy again, but finding enough people to fill jobs has been a problem at both airports.
"We're still struggling to staff all of our food and beverage concessions on the concourse right now," Bradbury told NEWS CENTER Maine by phone. "We still have one concession that is not open, and it's a macro issue across the country."
"It's a concern of ours here at the airport, not just at the airport but certainly the airlines and the concessions," Caruso expressed. "There's a labor shortage, so everybody's kind of struggling through, as we -- like I said -- continue to get our business back."
Bradbury and Caruso both said they're offering incentives like higher salaries and increased benefits to try to recruit and retain workers. Bradbury said the jetport doesn't make money off of plane tickets. Instead, it profits from parking, rental cars, food and drink, and gift concessions, which is why an increase in passengers (and adequate staff to support them) is important.