What is typically a bustling time for travel, this holiday season will be quite different from years past. With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror as we quickly approach Christmas, consumers are forgoing long-term planning and instead, making last minute decisions for how and where they will spend the holidays. To travel or not to travel is the question weighing on many people’s minds as they consider how to celebrate safely this year. 53% of U.S. adults surveyed by Morning Consult indicated their traditional holiday gatherings will proceed as planned but 47% said this year’s festivities would be canceled altogether due to the health pandemic.
Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, Americans remain more optimistic about travel than the rest of the world, with 55% of Americans planning on traveling this holiday season, compared to 30% globally, according to data from Tripadvisor.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
More than half of the surveyed travelers who are hitting the road – or skies – this holiday season said it will be their first vacation since COVID-19 changed life as we know it, according to the study from Hopper.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, plans have been re-evaluated, postponed indefinitely or canceled entirely. People are anxious to get out after the extended time at home,” said Marc Ehrhardt, president and partner of The Ehrhardt Group. “Employees are also finding themselves with banked vacation time that needs to be used and the clock is ticking.”
While 45% of travelers this holiday season said they are visiting family, 39% are taking some R&R and going on vacation, according to data from Tripadvisor.
Whether locally or on a trip, 63% of Americans say they intend to dine out at a restaurant at least once during the holidays.
LOCAL TRAVEL ON THE DECLINE
In the Gulf South region, consumers are scaling back on visiting retail and recreation destinations, even as the holiday shopping season heats up, as COVID-19 cases rise. Several counties and parishes across our area are seeing consumer traffic on the decline, with some areas such as Jefferson Parish, LA and Hancock County, MS nearing levels not seen since the spring.
PREFFERED MODE OF TRAVEL
For those that do plan to take a trip this holiday season, comfort levels with hitting the road come with conditions. 85% are okay with traveling by car, while almost 78% are significantly uncomfortable using public transportation, including flying, to reach their holiday destinations. 50% of Americans are also very uncomfortable using ride-hailing services right now.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, while there has been a recent uptick in travel surrounding Thanksgiving, overall figures remain significantly lower than years past. The number of travelers boarding planes the day before Thanksgiving this year is less than half of the 2.6 million who traveled the same day in 2019.
The 1.1 million people who crossed TSA checkpoints on November 25 marked the most passengers screened by the TSA since March 16, when checkpoints saw 1.25 million passengers. In total, nearly 6.8 million travelers passed through checkpoints in the seven days leading up to Thanksgiving, the most in any seven-day span since March 14-20.
These numbers may rise as 74% of those surveyed by the travel booking app Hopper said they planned to fly over the Christmas holidays, compared to 52% who said they would board a plane for Thanksgiving.
A LITTLE ADVICE
Although the recommendation has been to stay home for the holidays, on Dec. 2, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released holiday travel advice alongside adjustments to COVID quarantine guidelines to help people make safe and healthy choices if they choose to travel.
The group who will extend their holiday gatherings beyond immediate family fall just under 25% of the entire U.S. population. 56% of this group plan to resume leisure travel by the end of the year, with 63% planning to travel to another city to visit family and friends within the next few months. 75% said they would take a domestic trip once the pandemic is over.
For those on the fence, safety precautions are more likely to put holiday travelers’ minds at ease, according to a 2020 holiday travel study by Resonate. Those surveyed indicated the following conditions would need to be implemented in order for them to feel comfortable traveling:
- 48% would require reduced occupancy on flights and trains
- 50% expect all passengers to wear masks and gloves
- 46% would like to see temperature checks before boarding
The wait and see game has come to decision time in terms of holiday travel. Should we stay or should we go?
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HOW DID WE FIND THIS STUFF OUT?
The Gulf South Index is a cooperative project between The Ehrhardt Group, a public relations, content, issues and crisis firm, and Causeway Solutions, a nationally recognized research and data analysis company, that are both based in the Gulf South.
The Index delves into hundreds of thousands of data points to paint a better picture of how the millions of people living in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle are going about their lives. We want to find out more about how we make decisions, from what we are buying and how we are getting our news to where we plan to travel.
We cannot comment on the methodology of the surveys and research we did not conduct, which is why we do our best to link to the source articles or studies that we share here.