JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the first time in 20 years, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast, as the group says 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.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that Americans stay home and avoid nonessential travel. Americans are encouraged to 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.
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, 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.”
In Northeast Florida, Margot Ragzimski usually spends Memorial Day weekend with her neighbors.
“We all meet up at the cul-de-sac and bring food and have a great time,” said Ragzimski.
However, due to the pandemic, the barbecue is canceled this year.
“We decided, because of social distancing, it’s probably not a good idea to get that close,” explained Ragzimski.
She is one of many Floridians this year adjusting their holiday weekend plans.
According to Visit Jacksonville, hotels and lodging are typically at 80% occupancy over the holiday weekend, but this year, occupancy is expected to be a lot less. Currently, they are running at about half that occupancy and a majority of those bookings are from people locally or regionally.
In Atlantic Beach, the co-owner of Hotel Palms told News4Jax they still have a few rooms left for the weekend but are expecting to fill up.
“I’ve seen a few people the last week or two who are returning guests, we’ve had some new people,” said Greg Schwartzenberger, co-owner and manager of Hotel Palms. “Everyone’s excited to get out, everyone’s in a real good mood and they are very optimistic.”
Mayor Lenny Curry is encouraging people who go to the beaches or restaurants over the holiday weekend to continue social distancing. He said people in Northeast Florida appear to be following the guidelines.
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.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.
Domestic travel more favored due to COVID-19 and presidential election
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 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,” Twidale said. “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.”
Travelers to gravitate to road trips
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.