November 30, 2020
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Although the overall number of Americans planning to travel this Thanksgiving holiday will decline from previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several surveys indicate that a significant amount – up to 50 million – still plan to hit the road the week of November 23.

[Above photo by AAA Travel]

“Despite COVID-19 concerns, Americans are still traveling this Thanksgiving. The way in which consumers travel, however, will look very different from past years,” noted Christopher Hsi, lead consumer market research analyst for travel platform Tripadvisor, in a statement.

“This year, we can expect shorter trips with smaller groups of people for more intimate, close knit gatherings,” he said. “Many are taking day trips (24 percent) or spending one night at their destination. Americans are also continuing to avoid big cities, instead opting for warm weather and beach destinations in southern states. We do see, however, that [Baby] Boomers are less likely to travel this year compared to last (29 percent vs. 51 percent).”

Tripadvisor’s survey found that 76 percent of those planning to travel over Thanksgiving plan to drive to their destination, with only 11 percent traveling by air. Another 22 percent of those traveling for Thanksgiving plan to stay in a hotel or vacation rental in order to practice social distancing from friends and family.

Those findings mirror results from an AAA survey that expects up to 50 million Americans to travel for Thanksgiving – a drop from 55 million in 2019. However, as the holiday approaches and Americans monitor the public health landscape – including rising COVID-19 positive case numbers – renewed quarantine restrictions and travel notices issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could depress the actual number of holiday travelers, explained Paula Twidale, senior vice president for AAA Travel.

“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” she said in a statement. “The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”

Overall, AAA anticipates at least a 10 percent drop in travel this Thanksgiving – the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008.

However, based on mid-October forecast models, AAA expects travel to increase on America’s roadways – both for Thanksgiving and end-of-year vacations.

The group said the “vast majority” of trips taken by Americans this fall — 80 percent — will be road trips. In a sign of the rising popularity of automotive travel, AAA said use of its TripTik road trip-planning tool doubled compared to the spring and early summer.

“For those who choose to travel, the great American road trip continues to be the preferred method of getting out and exploring the United States,” Twindale said in an earlier statement.

She added that lower prices at retail fuel pumps nationwide could be motivating some would-be travelers to hit the road this fall. On average, gasoline prices nationally are nearly 50 cents cheaper compared to the same time in 2019 and are the cheapest fall prices since 2016.

editor@aashto.org

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