For the first time in 20 years, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast, as the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by COVID-19. The annual forecast – which estimates the number of people traveling over the holiday weekend – will return next year.
Anecdotal reports suggest fewer people will hit the road compared to years past for what is considered the unofficial start of the summer travel season. Memorial Day 2009 currently holds the record for the lowest travel volume at nearly 31 million travelers, according to AAA. That holiday weekend, which came toward the end of the Great Recession, 26.4 million Americans traveled by car, 2.1 million by plane and nearly 2 million by other forms of transportation (train, cruise, etc.).
AAA expects to make travel projections for the late summer and fall, assuming states ease travel restrictions and businesses reopen. Already, there are indications that Americans’ desire to travel is inspiring them to plan future vacations.
“Coming off the second-highest travel volume on record one year ago is a good indicator that travel will rebound eventually,” said Bevi Powell, senior vice president, AAA East Central. “This holiday weekend travel will likely be low. However, staying within social distancing guidelines will be the primary focus.”
AAA.com/Travel online bookings have been rising, though modestly, since mid-April, suggesting travelers’ confidence is slowly improving. When it is safe to travel, AAA predicts vacationers will have a preference for U.S destinations, mostly local and regional locations, and the great American road trip.
The expected rebound in domestic vacations aligns with trends AAA anticipated for summer 2020 pre-COVID-19. In a March AAA Travel survey, 90% of the 173 million Americans who had summer vacations on the books planned to take a U.S.-based vacation. AAA travel experts say that’s common during a presidential election year when many travelers hold off on international travel because they want to see how the election will affect the economy or international relations. This year, the phenomenon is amplified by concerns about the pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that Americans stay home and avoid nonessential travel. Americans should heed all official warnings and refer to the latest updates from the CDC and U.S. Department of State to help decrease the spread of COVID-19. AAA advises that the decision to travel is a personal one that must be made by the individual.
AAA expects vacationers will gravitate to road trips and family bookings including air, car, hotel and activities to destinations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Shortly thereafter, assuming international travel restrictions are lifted, we expect to see more demand for tropical destinations and a wider range of international travel.