Trends show travelers are anxious to explore, booking last-minute trips

25 June 2020

This summer, AAA forecasts Americans will take a combined total of 700 million trips. That number is down nearly 15% compared to last July through September and is the first decline in summer travel since 2009.

RoadTrip2 Landscape.png

The findings are all part of AAA’s 2020 Summer Travel forecast, which uses key economic indicators to determine total number of trips, not actual traveler totals. Read the full report here, which includes what economic fundamentals influenced the report. Florida-specific data is not available in this report. However, AAA recently shared the results of how COVID-19 impacted Floridians’ travel plans. View that here.

“AAA booking trends show Americans are still making travel plans, though more cautiously and spur of the moment; often seeking long weekend getaways instead of extended vacations,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “When they do venture out, the greatest share of travelers will pack up the car for 683 million road trips.”

Car trips reign supreme accounting for 97% of the favored mode of transportation. Air travel will be off by about 74%, while rail, cruise ship and bus travel will slide by 86%. Were it not for the pandemic, AAA would be projecting 857 million trips during the third quarter, a 3.6% increase over last year. By this analysis, the pandemic wiped out nearly 150 million trips this summer.

   Summer Trips

July 1 – Sept 30, 2019

total volume

July 1 – Sept 30, 2020 total volume forecast

YOY Difference

   Automobile

706M

683M

           -3.3%

   Air

57.9M

15.1M

-73.9%

   Rail, Cruise, Other

64.3M

9.3M

-85.5%

   Total

857M

707M

-14.6%

 

AAA travel experts have begun to see positive trends in travel, noting that hotel and rental car bookings have gradually increased since April. Air travel has been slower to rebound. The share of travelers making plans 48 hours to 7 days before departure – a sign that people are arranging last-minute trips – is significantly higher than normal.

Road Trips + Top TripkTik Destinations

With travel restrictions lifting but social distancing still recommended, it’s no surprise that 97% of summer trips are road trips. That’s up from an average of 87% over the last five years. Road trips allow travelers to make their own schedule and customize stops based on comfort level and interests. For families, especially those with small children, it is an easy and less expensive way to travel. And an added benefit right now - gas prices remain low.

“Beyond mapping your route in advance, it is important to book hotels and plan out gas and food stops. Also, keep in mind that some national parks and attractions have capacity limits, so if there is a must-do activity on your trip, you’ll want to make arrangements for these in advance,” added Jenkins.

When it comes to AAA TripTik destination searches, prominent cities that typically draw large crowds are not as popular. Orlando, FL has dropped from the top searched city destination to number eight while Denver, CO makes the biggest climb from number 10 to number one: (Data based on TripTik.AAA.com searches from March 15 – June 14, 2020)

Top AAA TripTik Destination Searches

  1. Denver, CO
  2. Las Vegas, NV
  3. Los Angeles, CA
  4. Seattle, WA
  5. Phoenix, AZ
  6. Portland, OR
  7. Myrtle Beach, SC
  8. Orlando, FL
  9. San Diego, CA
  10. Nashville, TN

To assist travelers in planning a road trip, AAA has several resources available including AAA TripTiks, COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map, and Well-Traveled with AAA webcasts. AAA also recommends visiting https://www.aaa.com/roadtrips/.

Traffic Congestion Forecast

INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, analyzed the top 20 metropolitan areas and all states to inform travelers of the chances they will run into traffic when they travel. According to INRIX, road trippers in Florida are probably going to encounter below normal traffic congestion.

“While the amount people drive is still low for this time of year, we know millions will be taking road trips in the months ahead. The good news is, the congestion they will encounter is nowhere near what we typically see in a summer,” says Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX.

Summertime Gas Prices at 16-year Lows

Florida drivers are currently finding the lowest summertime gas prices since 2004. The state average is hovering around $2 per gallon – a 21% decline from the average price per gallon last summer ($2.54).

When at the pump, AAA recommends wearing disposable gloves or using a plastic sandwich bag to avoid touching the pump handle. When back in your car, be sure to clean your hands with sanitizer or wipes.

Hotel Bookings

Advance hotel bookings are nearly 25% shorter than this time last year. Here are the top 10 most popular hotel destinations since mid-March based on AAA Travel bookings:

  1. Las Vegas
  2. Orlando
  3. San Diego
  4. New York City
  5. Chicago
  6. Nashville
  7. Atlanta
  8. Houston
  9. Portland
  10. San Antonio

For road trips that require an overnight stay, look for hotels with a AAA Diamond designation. For extra confidence, look for Diamond hotels that display a AAA Inspector’s Best Of Housekeeping badge. Property inspections were completed prior to February. However, to meet the criteria for this award, these hotels have received top marks for housekeeping excellence for two consecutive inspections and are free of AAA member complaints.

“In light of COVID-19, AAA is revising the inspection process used in its Diamonds Program,” said Jenkins. “The new criteria will reflect best practices for protecting the health of hotel guests, employees and AAA inspectors."

Hotel Sanitation Tips

Prior to your hotel stay, AAA recommends calling ahead to ensure your hotel is still open and asking about any restrictions or changes to the check-in process. It’s likely that the hotel has reduced the number of times guests have face-to-face interactions with other guests and hotel staff. When you check into your room, remember to wipe down surfaces with disinfecting wipes. Pay special attention to surfaces such as light switches, door knobs, faucets and remote controls.

Other Modes of Transportation

Other modes of transportation – cruises, buses and rail – have seen the most dramatic drop in travel volume. Most cruise lines have suspended all departures until at least August 1, with only limited offerings after that. AAA, however, has noted growing demand for departures in 2021.

Rail travel offers a unique way to see the country, and AAA offers a number of itineraries to explore iconic cities as well as the National Parks and beyond at AAA.com/vacations.

Know Before You Go

No matter how a traveler gets to their final destination, AAA recommends considering these points before you go:

  • Check the CDC’s Covid-19 data tracker, municipal and state health departments and local news for updates on coronavirus cases and continue to do so while on the road.
  • Visit AAA’s Covid-19 Travel Restrictions Map at TripTik.AAA.com for the latest state and local travel restrictions.
  • Pack face coverings, gloves and cleaning supplies - like disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer - and a thermometer.
  • Take all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards.

 

Methodology:

Because of the pandemic’s impacts on travel, AAA did not release Memorial or Independence Day travel forecasts.  AAA’s Q3 projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the summer travel period is defined as July 1 through September 30. In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using macroeconomic drivers such as employment; output; household net worth; asset prices including stock indices; interest rates; housing market indicators and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays. The complete AAA/IHS Markit forecast is available here.

About INRIX:

INRIX is the global leader in connected car services and transportation analytics. Leveraging big data and the cloud, INRIX delivers comprehensive services and solutions to help move people, cities and businesses forward. Our partners are automakers, governments, mobile operators, developers, advertisers, as well as enterprises large and small.

About AAA - The Auto Club Group
The Auto Club Group (ACG) is the second largest AAA club in North America with more than 14 million members across 14 U.S. states, the province of Quebec and two U.S. territories. ACG and its affiliates provide members with roadside assistance, insurance products, banking and financial services, travel offerings and more. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with more than 60 million members in the United States and Canada. AAA’s mission is to protect and advance freedom of mobility and improve traffic safety. For more information, get the AAA Mobile app, visit AAA.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.