holiday travel

AAA Projects Lowest Number of Holiday Travelers since 2002

The 2020 holiday travel season is showing how the pandemic is changing the way people are experiencing the holiday

NBCUniversal, Inc.

This is a travel season unlike any we've ever seen before, with fewer people flying out for the holidays.

In fact, AAA said in its latest forecast that we could see the lowest number of travelers since 2002.

According to the 2020 Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast published by AAA this month, 3/4 of Americans are expected to stay home this year.

That's 34 million fewer people traveling this year compared to last year.

"The 2020 year-end holiday period will see the largest decline on record,
ending a streak of 11 consecutive years of holiday travel growth," the AAA report states.

Air travel is expected to drop by near 60% over the next two weeks compared to previous years, with about 4.4 million fewer than last year. Travel by others modes of transportation like bus, rail and cruise ship will fall by at least 87% to less than half a million travelers.

But there is one trend that is standing out this season, something that vacation home rental company Vacasa said it has been tracking.

"One way we have seen trends change during this pandemic is that people are staying closer to home and opting for road trip destinations over air travel,” said Natalia Sutin, VP of revenue management for Vacasa. “In fact, according to our holiday survey, out of those that are traveling this holiday season, 76% -- or three out of four -- are planning to drive."

Sutin said rentals and hotel stays along travel routes are also seeing some more interest this season. The number of miles people are willing to travel has also declined compared to years past due to safety concerns.

"When you are going to your destination make sure to check out local regulations, follow safety guidelines, be prepared for any closures and limit your exposure as much as possible. There are areas where you could be safe and socially distance," she said.

Sutin also said another trend they are observing in their surveys shows that two out of five families are planning to travel to a vacation or getaway destination with their household as opposed to meeting with extended family.

“I know myself, for example, during the holiday season either my parents come to visit us from New Jersey or my in-laws come from Los Angeles. And unfortunately, they’re not going to be able to make it. So my family and I are going to drive about two hours away and just spend some time outside of our usual home and experience something different,” she said.

Even though more people are traveling by car, data from AAA shows car travel is falling to a 10 year low. Auto travel is expected to decline by at least 25% this year. The forecasted 81.1 million travelers are nearly 27 million fewer than last year, according to the AAA report.

Nevertheless, more than 1 million people passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports on Friday and again on Saturday, according to Transportation Security Administration.

Only one out of four Americans are expected to travel during the holiday season and experts say travel is expected to pick up as the vaccine rolls out to the general public in 2021, but as NBC 5’s Alanna Quillen reports how the vaccine will affect travel remains to be seen.

The changing trends and bleak holiday travel numbers raises questions over what the future of travel heading into 2021 will look like.

Sutin says the news on vaccines are a great start.

“As far as the rest of the industry, obviously with the news of the vaccine -- hopefully as it becomes safer and safer, we will see that return of confidence in travel as we know it," she said.

Experts say confidence is the key, as well as time.

According to a report by NBC News, when it comes to masks, contactless service and social distancing during travel, we could still see those routines extend well into 2021 until most travelers feel safe and COVID-19 infection rates improve.

Airports, hotels and cruise lines will also continue making health, safety and cleanliness a priority.

As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available, it could become a must have for travelers and maybe even a requirement for those traveling internationally.

“Of course it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen but based on the regulations we are seeing and how different states are using the test results for folks coming in and out of those states, I do think that there will be new regulations that what will be in place -- once we get to a point where a vaccine is widely available," Sutin said.

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