(News-Press.com) - Increased prices for travel this Memorial Day weekend should not put a halt to vacation plans or dampen Southwest Florida's tourism and hospitality industries.
"Even with gas price fluctuations, people still want to take their vacations," said Pamela Johnson, deputy director for the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.
Typically, travelers this time of year are limited to in-state visitors. Fewer people from other parts of the country venture to Florida during the more hot and humid months. This year, Lee will see a mix of in-state and out of state visitors for the Memorial Day weekend, Johnson said.
MORE: Memorial Day closings in Southwest Florida
Collier County tourism officials expect plenty of in-state visitors. "A lot of families traditionally will come over from Florida's southeast coast," said JoNell Modys, communications manager for the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"Our hotels have not stopped being busy since many of our winters residents left. The hotels have stayed busy so I believe that we're looking at a potentially sold-out weekend."
Jay and Diana Nordlund flew from Wisconsin to enjoy a vacation with friends on Fort Myers Beach. The couple decided to leave the cold this weekend when their friends purchased a town house on the beach.
"And being from Wisconsin, we love the weather," said Diana Nordlund.
CAR TRAVEL , GAS PRICES
An unforgiving winter that hindered the economy has left gasoline prices and airfare higher than this time last year, said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA Auto Club South.
Despite price increases, holiday travelers will not be deterred.
"So many people were unable to travel because of the harsh winter," Jenkins said. "Now they can make that trip."
AAA reported the average price for regular unleaded gasoline in Florida was $3.64 last week, one cent lower than national average. This price is down from the $3.76 it was a month ago but up from the $3.47 it was this time last year.
According to GasBuddy.com the Naples area has the highest average in the state at $3.79 a gallon, just a penny higher than the Gainesville market. On Thursday, a GasBuddy watcher reported the Chevron station at 11555 Bonita Beach Road in Bonita Springs was charging $3.99 a gallon.
AAA Travel projects 31.8 million Americans will pack up the car to journey 50 miles or more from home over the four days that began Thursday.
Florida's share is projected at 1.6 million.
Regardless of Florida's predicted influx of travelers, the roadways are not expected to be any worse than a normal weekend.
"We don't necessarily anticipate a sharp increase in traffic over the holiday weekend," said Debbie Tower, public information director at Florida Department of Transportation.
The average round-trip airfare has increased to $227 from the $215 it was last year, Jenkins said.
Increased prices doesn't mean airlines aren't busy. Victoria Moreland, director of public affairs for Lee County Port Authority, said holidays are always busy and Memorial Day is no exception.
"We have a lot of travelers who take advantage of the long weekend to come down to the area," Moreland said.
Sarah and Jason Vagt flew to Fort Myers from Minnesota.
The couple decided flying was the better option. "We found out it was about the same price and a lot faster," Jason Vagt said.
According to AAA Travel, air travelers this Memorial Day weekend are expected to increase 2.4 percent to 2.6 million travelers from the 2.5 million who traveled last year.
Florida is forecast to have 138,445 air travelers.
If you haven't made your reservation, it might be difficult to find a place to stay.
Managers of hotels and campgrounds along Southwest Florida's coast are booked .
"We are 100 percent booked. We have been booked up for over a month," said Chris Davison, vice president of operations and general manager at Island Inn. The Island Inn on Sanibel Island has 49 rooms, seven of which are cottages.
Lauri Albion, general manager at the Red Coconut RV Resort at Fort Myers Beach, said the resort is 95 percent booked. Three or four small RV spots out of 250 spots, eight mobile homes, a beach house and an apartment were available.
The majority of guests at the Red Coconut RV Resort are in-state visitors, Albion said.
According to Jeff Webb, owner of the Hampton Inn on Colonial Boulevard, inland hotels will miss the influx.
"Only coastal hotels will be busy this weekend," Webb said.
Restaurant managers along the Southwest Florida coast are expecting a busy weekend.
Eric Post, general manager for the Lazy Flamingo in Bokeelia, said he expects 100-200 more people a day to visit the restaurant.
"In the last 14 years, we are usually busier for this weekend," Post said.
Post expects the busy season to last as long as the weather stays sunny.
Restaurants are not the only place to get a bite to eat this Memorial Day.
The Shell Factory in North Fort Myers will be serving up its own feast this Memorial Day. The local tourist destination will host its first Old Fashioned Family Bar-B-Que.
"This time of year, we usually get a lot of locals," said Anne Sheridan, general manager at the Shell Factory.
Pack sunblock and, maybe, an umbrella for your travels.
The weather this weekend is expected to be sunny and warm with possibility of isolated storms in late afternoon on Saturday and Sunday, said Jim Farrell, WINK News chief meteorologist.
"People should prepare for a hotter than normal holiday weekend," Farrell said.
The sun isn't the only thing that will warm things up.
"Starting on Saturday, not only will the temperatures be higher but the humidity will increase," Farrell said.
Safety Reminders for holiday drivers
• Make sure all children are buckled in safely and in age-appropriate safety seats
• Don't text and drive — Keep your eyes on the road and drive defensively
• Slow down — Obey all posted speed limit signs
• Don't drink and drive — If you drink, have a sober driver or take a cab
To increase safety, AAA and Bud Light are teaming up to offer the Tow to Go program for the Memorial Day weekend. Anyone who is too intoxicated to drive may call the service at (855) 2-TOW-2-GO or (855) 286-9246.