The summer tourism season kicks off this weekend with thousands of people driving to the beach for Memorial Day weekend. Tourism officials expect a good turnout, but not like years past.
Gas prices may be at record highs, but that's not stopping most people from packing up the SUV and heading down to the beach for the holiday weekend. AAA estimates 37 million Americans will travel this Memorial Day weekend, which is a significant increase from last year.
More than a 100,000 of those vacationers will end up in Panama City Beach. The urge to hit the road comes despite sticker shock at the pump. Gas prices are 55 cents higher than they were a year ago. In fact, the only thing that may stop these vacationers is a lack of rooms on the beach.
Hundreds of rooms have been demolished in recent months, and tourism officials expect the next couple of summer tourism seasons to be slightly slower until all the new condominiums are up and running.
Ninety percent of the people visiting our area this weekend are driving here, but Tourism experts say the majority of those people live less than 400 miles from Panama City Beach, so gas may not be as big an issue for most vacationers.