Varying state-by-state recovery plans could lead to lowest travel volume in 20 years

BOISE – (May 14, 2020) – For the first time in 20 years, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel projection, as the accuracy of the data used to create the forecast has been undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in an age of social distancing and with states at various stages of re-opening, anecdotal reports suggest that far fewer people are expected to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend than in recent years.  In fact, there’s a possibility that 2020 could see the lowest Memorial Day travel volume since AAA began making projections more than 20 years ago.

“It’s strange to think that by the time it’s all said and done, we could be looking at Memorial Day travel numbers that are worse than they were during the Great Recession, but it’s certainly possible,” says AAA Idaho spokesman Matthew Conde.  “Current restrictions on non-essential travel and the temporary closure of many popular attractions mean that this year’s summer travel season is more likely to start with a fizzle than with a bang.”

During the 2009 Memorial Day travel period, just 31 million Americans made a holiday getaway, compared with 43 million last year – the second highest amount on record.

Despite this year’s gloomy short-term outlook, AAA says there’s room to be optimistic about the summer travel season and beyond.

“Pre-COVID-19, 173 million Americans told AAA that they had summer vacation plans, with nearly 90 percent expected to do their traveling in the States.  AAA’s online travel bookings have been slowly but steadily rising since mid-April, which suggests that people are starting to feel more confident that better days are ahead,” Conde said.  “When it’s safe to travel, and barring any unfortunate setbacks, the summer travel season could still ramp up in a big way.”

Like the state recovery plans, AAA expects most vacationers to take a phased-in approach to travel this summer and fall.  For many, the priority will be to reconnect with family and friends.  As more attractions re-open, travelers will start taking longer road trips or quick flights across the U.S. and Canada, followed by visits to tropical destinations and ultimately, return to international travel.  With their wide-open spaces, where social distancing may be easier to achieve, the National Parks could be a particularly attractive destination this year.

“Bucket list dreams haven’t changed much in the face of the pandemic,” Conde explained.  “In many cases, our travel agents are helping people postpone their trips until later this year or next – but people aren’t prepared to give up on their travel plans, nor should they.”

At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that Americans stay home and avoid nonessential travel.  AAA encourages travelers to adhere to all official warnings and advisories to help decrease the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  While the decision to travel is a personal one, travelers should check with state or local authorities at their planned destination and along their route to understand any restrictions that may be in place.

“Even if we can’t travel immediately, it doesn’t hurt to start doing some research,” Conde said.  “Visit with a professional travel consultant to explore your options, and review trusted literature, like AAA Travel Guides, or do some daydreaming with AAA’s list of 11 favorite road trips from The Great American Road Trip series.”

AAA reminds drivers to perform regular maintenance to keep their cars ready for their next road trip.  Make sure tires are properly inflated, fluids are clean and topped off, and that the battery has a strong charge.  If necessary, drivers should visit a trusted repair shop to make sure their vehicle is good to go.