One of the state’s key economic engines is tourism. It’s been on a six-year growth spurt hitting nearly $43.5 billion last year, directly or indirectly supporting 512,000 jobs, almost a tenth of our total employment. But it can’t keep growing if tourists can’t get where they’re going. The organization that tracks travel is AAA. Its Director of Government Relations is Cathleen Lewis. She spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Thank you for being here.
Lewis: Happy to be.
Williams: Tell me what we’re seeing in terms of traffic this weekend.
Lewis: Well we’re going to see lots of people on the roadways. We asked people if they’re going to take trips 50 miles or more. So we’re going to anticipate that there is going to be close to a million New Jerseyans traveling. With 38 million across the country. A lot of those are going to come through our state because you get all those folks to the shore, Pennsylvania, New York. We’re going to see a lot of them.
Williams: And what about the cheap Jersey gas?
Lewis: Oh absolutely. The lower gas prices have really encouraged people to take that extra road trip. Either a long road trip like we’re seeing in our numbers or even those quick extra trips to the shore that New Jerseyans are going to take.
Williams: It doesn’t feel as though gas prices are low because they’re the highest they’ve been this year, but they’re actually the lowest they’ve been in 11 years.
Lewis: Absolutely. We’re at the lowest point in the decade. If you look at where we were two weeks ago it doesn’t seem very cheap but if you think about the fact that we’re at $2.54 a year ago, that price at $2.14 seems like a bargain.
Williams: Also New Jersey Transit is adding extra trains for this weekend. Will that continue throughout the summer?
Lewis: I think some of it will continue. I know that they’re looking to do more one-seat rides right to the shore so I think that those are going to continue. I think the frequency this weekend I think is going to really help to get people in that habit of going to the shore that way.
Williams: This is the second year that the nightmare construction to widen the Turnpike has been over. So, we’ve had time to measure what effect the wider Turnpike has had.
Lewis: So I will tell you last year after Memorial Day we saw a little bit of an increase and I got people asking me why was there so much less people on the roads. There weren’t less people. It was just easier to get to the shore. That change in the commute makes people think, “You know what? I can go to the shore that extra day. It’s sunny, it’s nice out, gas is cheap, I’m not going to have a headache.” So it really helped people get there — that extra day trip and that extra weekend.
Williams: What are the most popular Memorial Day weekend destinations?
Lewis: Well, you know here in New Jersey we think of the shore but we have a number of places where people are going. They like to get to Florida, they like to go away to the islands. But here in New Jersey we hope that they go to the shore and we hope that folks are coming from Pennsylvania, from New York and the surrounding areas.
Williams: What do you recommend for travelers heading into the Memorial Day weekend?
Lewis: So first and foremost, make sure your car is ready. Get your tires checked, get your fluids checked, the battery and the battery is a big deal when it comes to heat. We don’t think about it quite so much but overheating becomes a big issue. So you want to make sure that’s ready. After that, if you’re taking a longer trip, make sure you take frequent breaks. Take a break every hundred miles — stretch your legs, get some caffeine, make sure you’re not drowsy on the roadways and most importantly put your phone away. Do not drive distracted. Give it to a passenger so that they can be in charge of it and your eyes don’t wander.
Williams: Or just put it in the glove compartment right?
Williams: All right, Cathleen Lewis thank you very much for being with us and happy Memorial Day to you!
Lewis: Thank you. Have a happy holiday!