Holiday travel forecast: Expect more traffic on the road and in the sky, despite COVID-19

Julie Loffredi, InsureMyTrip.com
·5 min read

The holiday travel season is typically the busiest time of the year.

But, this year, the coronavirus pandemic combined with travel restrictions – both domestic and international – have complicated things. So, what will this 2020 holiday travel season look like?

Here’s some predictions from top travel experts:

Travel increase

Travel expert Amanda Norcross expects an increase in travel this holiday season, despite fewer people traveling overall. “Many will be traveling to see family and friends for the first time since quarantine began, and are likely to score lower airfares as cash-strapped airlines compete to offer the best deals,” Norcross says.

Hopper’s new Holiday Travel Confidence Report also suggests an increase in travel is likely. According to a poll, 39% say they plan to travel during the holidays this year. However, 21% have said they do not plan to travel, though in a typical year, they would. About 50% plan to fly over Thanksgiving and 75% say they will for the December holidays.

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More traffic

When it comes to road travel, the American Automobile Association (AAA) is the go-to source for data. The association typically releases its travel forecasts for the Thanksgiving and year-end holidays in November and December. A spokesperson at AAA says given the implications of COVID, it is difficult to make any estimations of what travel around the holidays will look like this year.

AAA says the summer travel forecast may be the best guide. This summer, Americans were expected to take more than 700 million trips from July through September, a decline of 15% compared with last year.

RVs & camping

RVShare.com, a site for renting recreational vehicles, expects a rise in bookings this November and December as more travelers may opt to hit the roads. While the weather will be much colder in some parts of the country, the RV and camping boom will likely continue.

”More than half of travelers (in a recent poll) said they would consider renting an RV to visit family and stay in a family member’s driveway or nearby campground to social-distance,” says RVShare spokesperson Maddi Bourgerie.

Cruise lines unclear

When it comes to cruising this holiday, no one really knows. As of right now, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's no-sail order continues till Nov. 1, and there’s no telling whether the CDC will extend it beyond that date.

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Money-back cancellations

InsureMyTrip data shows that while overall travel is down for the holidays, travel insurance remains in demand. According to a recent customer survey, roughly 90% of customers are highly interested in coverage if they want to cancel a trip because of COVID-19 fears.

“We do recommend that holiday travelers consider travel insurance with the cancel for any reason upgrade. This way, policyholders can back out of a trip and get money back – not a voucher – as long as they meet requirements," says InsureMyTrip eCommerce Director Cheryl Golden.

Travelers can find plans at CancelMyTrip.com or InsureMyTrip.com.

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Hotel travel deals vary

When it comes to travel prices this holiday, experts predict there will be bargains; average hotel rates are lower than in previous years.

“Hotel rates in the U.S. for Thanksgiving are averaging a low of $117 per night and $150 on average per night for Christmas,” says Liana Corwin, a consumer travel expert at travel booking app Hopper.

Flexible travel dates

Hotels and vacation rental companies expect less pressure on the traditional peak holiday travel weeks.

“Because of the ability to work and school remotely, families will be enjoying longer trips over the holidays and can choose to travel during less popular days and times to avoid crowded roads and airplanes,” says James Henderson, CEO of Exclusive Resorts Exclusive Resorts.

Henderson also expects a strong demand for safe sanctuaries via stand-alone vacation residences with COVID-19-era amenities like dedicated concierge service, private pools, ample outdoor space and fully equipped kitchens.

Health and safety precautions

Experts predict more communication from travel suppliers and booking sites for the holidays on COVID-19 health protocols.

Booking.com just released a new feature on its property listings dubbed "Health & Safety Measures." CMO Arjan Dijk says the feature displays measures the property is taking in areas such as hygiene, distancing and food safety, “so we encourage travelers to read through these safety measures to help them select a property that gives them peace of mind."

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Flex spaces

The hotel industry is prepared for just about any scenario the holidays. There’s strong potential high demand for “flex spaces”, areas that can transition from a bedroom to a workspace, with the option for extended stays.

“Here in Miami we expect multi-family travelers to extend holiday stays beyond the average week to multiple weeks, even months, in hotels that can offer flex spaces that go from a living room/bedroom to a work from home or remote learning space,” says Rick Ueno, general manager of W South Beach.

Early birds win

While early-bird advice seems redundant, Mark Jackson, travel editor for Brad’s Deals, says that as soon as you know your holiday travel dates, book your flights. While flights are historically lower, they could rise as we get closer to the season.

“With less flights than normal this year due to service cutbacks, there won’t be many deals at all during the holidays. And, with less flights, you’ll have less choice on when you can fly. It’s best to guarantee your preferred travel times by booking early,” Jackson says.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Holiday travel forecast: Expect more traffic on the road, at airports