American flag flying in warm summer breezes over bright beach scene

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has cast its pall over the first big holiday of the year, Memorial Day weekend. The uncertainty of the situation has led AAA to forego its annual travel forecast for the weekend for the first time in 20 years.

The travel agency did estimate that fewer than usual people would travel this Memorial Day as a result of the pandemic. This comes after years of increasingly higher numbers of Americans hitting the highway every holiday, such as last Christmas.

“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend – the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president. “With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”

Memorial Day 2009, during the last major recession, holds the record for the lowest travel volume at nearly 31 million travelers, according to AAA. Most, 26.4 million, traveled by car, while 2.1 million went by plane and nearly 2 million by other forms of transportation, such as trains and cruises.

AAA expects to make its travel forecast for the late summer and fall, assuming states ease travel restrictions and businesses reopen. There are some indications that travel may resume, including a slight rise in AAA’s online bookings since mid-April. The agency expects most trips will be to domestic U.S. destinations.

A survey AAA conducted in March found that 90 percent of the 173 million Americans who had summer vacations on the books planned to take a U.S.-based vacation. That reflects a common presidential election year travel trend, according to AAA, and the pandemic appears to be amplifying it.

“The saying goes that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Americans are taking that first step toward their next journey from the comfort of their home by researching vacation opportunities and talking with travel agents,” said Twidale. “We are seeing that Americans are showing a preference and inspiration to explore all that our country has to offer as soon as it is safe to travel.”