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.
“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, the senior vice president of AAA Travel. “With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”
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.).
Travelers’ Confidence Slowly Improving
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’ wanderlust is inspiring them to plan future vacations.
AAA’s 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.
Presidential Election and now COVID-19 Encourages Domestic Travel
The expected rebound in domestic vacations aligns with trends AAA anticipated for summer 2020 pre-COVID-19. In a AAA Travel survey from February, 90 percent 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 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.”
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.