Warmer weather, cooler gas prices expected to boost Memorial Day travel

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Michigan residents are expected to travel in numbers near pre-pandemic levels this upcoming Memorial Day weekend as the state's summer tourist season kicks off.

More than 1.2 million Michiganians plan to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday, according to AAA’s 2023 Memorial Day Travel Forecast. That’s up 79,000 up from 2022, and just 36,000 less than in 2019.

Where are travelers headed? Within the state, lakes are a popular draw, said Adrienne Woodland, spokeswoman for AAA. According to a consumer survey, 40% of respondents marked that as a destination for summer.

Beachgoers enjoy the sun Tuesday at Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. Lakes are a popular destination for Michiganians and visitors to the state.

“For Michigan the top destinations were lake destinations,” she said. “Of course, in Michigan it doesn’t take long for anyone to get to a lake.”

Motorists are expected to pay more at the pump for gas heading into the weekend. As of Monday, gas prices in Michigan were up 23 cents from the prior week. However, the cost of gas is down eight cents a gallon from this time last month and a full dollar from this time last year, according to AAA. As of Tuesday, a gallon of regular unleaded cost an average $3.55 in Michigan.

"While Michigan drivers are seeing a double-digit increase in pump prices compared to this time last week, prices have held steady over the past few days," Woodland said. "If gas demand increases ahead of Memorial Day weekend, drivers could see pump prices move higher."

At Detroit Metro Airport, officials say they expect to see more travelers this Memorial Day holiday than in 2019.

“Memorial Day Weekend marks the unofficial start of the summer season and our summer schedules look strong,” Randy Wimbley, a spokesperson for the Wayne County Airport Authority, said in an email.

Wimbley noted numerous new airline services this month at Metro Airport: Icelandair, Sun Country and WestJet are starting routes from the airport.

Travelers who want to enjoy outdoor activities like these bicyclists Tuesday at Lake St. Clair Metropark will have nice weather for them this weekend.

“Delta has also added Iceland and Rome to its summer schedule,” Wimbley said. “Spirit and Frontier airlines have recently added nonstop flights to San Jan, Puerto Rico, as well.”

Delta Air Lines, the largest carrier at DTW, said it expects to serve around 2.8 million customers system-wide during the Memorial Day weekend, up 17% from 2022, said Morgan Durrant, a company spokesperson. He did not have Detroit-specific figures.

In a message to Delta customers last week, CEO Ed Bastian noted the numerous steps the airline has put in place to make sure it’s ready for the summer travel season.

“We’ve recruited and trained more than 25,000 Delta people to meet the rise in demand and have incorporated learnings from last summer into our crew scheduling, with more pilots standing by to fly when needed,” Bastian said. “We’ve invested heavily in aircraft maintenance in key cities around the world so we can more quickly address any mechanical issues to get you on your way. And we’re continuing to partner with the Federal Aviation Administration to help minimize delays and cancels due to weather and congested airspace.”

Weather throughout the state for the holiday weekend is expected to be warm and clear, according to the National Weather Service. High temperatures in Metro Detroit are expected to range from the 70s to the 80s Friday through Monday.

For travelers staying in the state, Michigan’s recreational areas and campgrounds are popular. Campground reservations remain high since a boost during the pandemic, said Ron Olson, chief of parks and recreation for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Olson said the state's network of campgrounds was more than 90% occupied as of mid-May and that figure was expected to increase as the weekend approaches.

“The number of people going outdoors has continued to stay strong even though that number jumped up quite a bit after COVID,” Olson said. “We suspect that a lot of people sought out doing things outdoors that they perhaps hadn't done before, and are continuing to do things they didn't do much prior to that."

The most popular campgrounds in the state include Ludington State Park and Grand Haven State Park, both on the west side of the state, Olson said.

At Taylor's Beach Campground in Howell, the privately owned recreational site is fully booked for the weekend and ready for guests, said owner Alan Taylor.

“We’ve had campers in since April, but Memorial Day is the big kickoff,” he said.

Taylor said he’s fully staffed for the season with eight employees.

The family-friendly campground features include Tiki Hut pontoon boats, paddle boats, miniature golf and a splash pad. Guests who don’t have a camper trailer can rent one or a cabin on site.

The 200 campsites are booked well in advance, in some cases six to 12 months out, Taylor said.

“A large percentage of our customers are repeat customers,” he said. “That's kind of one factor that makes it hard for new people to get in. The regulars love the place and (have) come for years. They're smart enough to book the sites real early.”

Up north at Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, Chris Shepler, president of the ferry service, said he’s looking forward to the warm weather expected this weekend.

“I would start planning on getting on up here and enjoying northern Michigan because it's going to be a lovely, beautiful weekend,” he said.

Shepler said visitor traffic has been slow for the past month, partly due to cold and wet weather. However, Memorial Day weekend is typically the busiest period before the end of the school year, he said.  

Shepler’s is fully staffed to handle a bump in visitors for the holiday weekend, he said. The company employs about 200 cast members for the season.

“We have spare captains and spare boats and spare crew to jump on a boat and take people if it does get jamming,” he said. “We're prepared for them and we'll stay in front of that eight ball as people start coming.”


Twitter: @CWilliams_DN