Surveys: Fewer Americans traveling for holidays

Like Thanksgiving, fears of COVID-19 and the restrictions enacted against it are dampening travel plans

Of the 84.5 million Americans expected to travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, 96 percent, or 81 million will travel by car, according to AAA Travel. That’s a 29 percent decline in overall travelers and a 25 percent drop in holiday drivers compared to last year. Another 2.9 million are expected to travel by air, a 60 percent decline, and up to 480,000 Americans will go by bus and train, a decline of 87 percent.

THE OLD SONG “Home for the holidays” has a new meaning this year as most Americans are expected to stay home, not travel to other destinations, according to AAA Travel’s forecast and a survey from the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Those who do travel are, once again, expected to travel by car and are urged to be aware of new restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

AAA forecasts that 84.5 million Americans will travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3, about 34 million fewer than last year, a 29 percent decline. Road trips are expected to make up for 96 percent of holiday travel with up to 81 million Americans will travel by car, a 25 percent compared to last year. Concerns over COVID-19 are expected to lead some travelers who usually travel by bus, train or airplane to opt for driving instead. The fact that gas prices are about 19 percent below 2019 averages may also contribute to this decision.

Another 2.9 million are expected to travel by air during the holiday period, a 60 percent decline from 2019. Finally, up to 480,000 Americans are expected to travel by other modes, such as bus and train, a decline of 87 percent.

The low numbers come on the heels of an also subdued Thanksgiving travel holiday.

“While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans often venture out for longer, more elaborate vacations. That will not be the case this year,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president. “Public health concerns, official guidance not to travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment have encouraged the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays.”

Even the low prices for gas and airline tickets are not encouraging travel as they usually would, said Jeanette Casselano McGee, AAA spokesperson.

“The lower prices and less traffic aren’t driving decisions to hit the road. Americans are looking to the public health landscape, including COVID-19 case numbers, to make their travel decisions,” Casselano said.

AHLA’s survey of 2,200 adults conducted Nov. 2 to 4 by Morning Consult, found that 69 percent of Americans will not travel for the holidays in response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations against travel over the holiday season and new stay-at-home orders enacted in several states.

“We understand the importance of following CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and support the government’s actions. However, with the dramatic decline in travel, hotels will face a harsh winter through no fault of our own,” said Chip Rogers, AHLA’s president and CEO.

Rogers said the situation demands that Congress members defer their own vacations until an agreement is reached on the next round of federal stimulus. His position is shared by AAHOA as well.

“The hotel industry needs aid to survive until travel demand returns. Given this current environment, Congress cannot nor should not contemplate recess until a relief bill is passed now,” Rogers said. “Millions of Americans are out of work, and thousands of small businesses are struggling to keep their doors open. We cannot afford to wait until the next Congress is sworn in for relief. We need help now.”

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • 74 percent of those traveling overnight for Christmas report they will stay with a family or friend.
  • 32 percent have taken an overnight vacation or leisure trip since March.
  • 24 percent are likely to travel for spring break.
  • 44 percent say their next hotel stay for vacation or leisure travel will be a year or more from now or they have no plans to stay in a hotel.
  • Only 8 percent of Americans say they have taken an overnight business trip since March and 8 percent of all adults expect to travel for business within the next six months.
  • 62 percent of employed Americans have no plans to stay in a hotel for business.