Americans may fly less, but it looks like their vacation plans are still in the air.
Almost one in seven who wants to go on vacation by the end of the year is unsure whether they can actually travel, and one in five expects to book at the last minute within a week of departure.
This is according to a recent AAA survey of traveler attitudes under travel restrictions in the pandemic, which also found that 80% of scheduled vacations will be road trips.
"Road trips have been the most popular because consumers can create their own experiences and take the necessary precautions, prepare for travel, limit contact and experience the great outdoors," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of travel, AAA. AAA reports that the use of the online tool for TripTik road trip planning has doubled compared to spring and early summer.
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On the reasons why Americans are still booking vacations despite mounting uncertainty about resurgent coronavirus infection rates and interstate traveler regulations, Twidale said, "The backlog from months of quarantine is a major motivation for travelers to hit the road. "
Travel providers do their best to attract and calm even cautious travelers. "Many hotels, tour operators and cruise lines offer flexible terms to encourage customers to make a booking decision," she added. "Insurance increases consumer confidence and security."
That said, travelers hedge their bets somewhat by often waiting until the last minute to book. "AAA sees trends like bookings within 48 hours or up to seven days, which was rare in pre-pandemic times," noted Twidale.
Where the road drivers go
Downtown Denver, the Flatirons and Longs Peak in Colorado. Denver is AAA's primary travel destination through the end of the year.
Brad McGinley Photography | Moment | Getty Images
According to the AAA, lower prices on the pump are also driving interest in road trips. Gasoline costs almost 50 cents less per gallon nationwide compared to last year, the lowest fall price since 2016.
Where on the map are the drivers hoping to go? Domestic destinations that enable socially distant outdoor recreation, Twidale said. Here are the top 10 places travelers searched for on TripTik.AAA.com from June 14th to September 14th, according to the AAA:
DenverLas VegasLos AngelesSan DiegoSeattleKeystone, South DakotaPortland, OregonPhoenixColorado Springs, ColoradoMyrtle Beach, South Carolina
Whether in the city or in the country, these locations tend to be scenic and offer plenty of open space that is perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, bird watching, rafting, and tubing, Twidale said. Natural landmarks like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and even Mt. Rushmore – located in Keystone – are also popular.
People want to work and travel at the same time, so many trips are longer stays.
Managing Director Americas at Guesty
"In coastal areas like California or even Myrtle Beach, travelers can enjoy the ocean air, boating, fishing, and strolling along the beach to get excited rather than be home-based," noted Twidale.
And that last bit is becoming increasingly important as many Americans continue to work from home and, in a broader sense, book longer work vacations while technically on vacation. Denver-based high-end vacation club Exclusive Resorts saw five times the number of reservations for stays of 14 days or more in December compared to last December, and more than doubled for the full 2021 year, so one Speaker. (The club's average total stay of 5.2 days corresponds to an annual jump in duration of 30%.)
AAA is following a related trend called "bleisure," which began before the pandemic, Twidale said.
Maskot | Maskot | Getty Images
Business travelers are increasingly using vacation time for business travel, she explained. "With the ability to work remotely using technology, a hybrid version of it may remain for some workers after the pandemic," she said.
Omer Rabin, Managing Director Americas at Guesty, says customers of the vacation property management software firm say the three-day weekend getaway is "dead".
"People want to work and travel at the same time, so many trips are long stays," he said. "A weekend becomes a week and people go on Wednesday and come back on Tuesday because you can work anywhere."