Memorial Day Travel Could Hit 'Record Low'

Motorists planning trips, quarantine blues shaping summer travel plans
Photograph courtesy of AAA

ORLANDO, Fla., and KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For the first time in 20 years, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast. The automobile association said the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual forecast, which estimates the number of people traveling over the holiday weekend, will return next year, AAA said.

Anecdotal reports suggest fewer people will hit the road compared to years past for what is considered the unofficial start of the summer travel season, the group said.

“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend—the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”

Memorial Day 2009 currently holds the record for the lowest travel volume at nearly 31 million travelers, according to AAA. That holiday weekend, which came toward the end of the Great Recession, 26.4 million Americans traveled by car, 2.1 million by plane and nearly 2 million by other forms of transportation, including train or cruise ship.

Orlando, Fla.-based AAA said it expects to make travel projections for the late summer and fall, assuming states ease travel restrictions and businesses reopen. Already, there are indications that Americans’ wanderlust is inspiring them to plan future vacations, the group said.

Meanwhile, 65% of Americans say they intend to increase the number of trips they plan to take over the summer, Pilot Co. found in a study commissioned in honor of National Road Trip Day, May 22.

The study revealed that COVID-19 is actually inspiring travel this summer. With stay-at-home orders still in effect in some places and many Americans stuck at home, the new research found that three in five (62%) people admit they need a break from their “quarantine-mates.”

Here are a few other key takeaways from Pilot’s study:

  • Saving while social distancing. More than half (54%) of respondents have taken advantage of the travel deals and discounts available due to COVID-19; 32% percent took a discounted trip when the pandemic began (before travel restrictions), while 22% booked a cheaper trip for the future.
  • Opting to drive over fly. One-third (35%) of respondents said they would prefer to drive due to worries about flying post-COVID-19.
  • Rise in road trips and outdoor adventures. More than half (53%) of repondents plan to take a road trip this summer, and 52% reported that the pandemic has made them more likely to take an outdoors-focused trip.
  • Summer sabbatical. Of those respondents planning to travel this summer, two-thirds (65%) are thinking about taking a three-month hiatus from work and traveling instead.
  • Reuniting with loved ones. During quarantine, more than half (56%) of respondents reconnected with friends or family members they hadn’t communicated with in a while. Of those, two-thirds (64%) plan to visit one of them this summer.
  • New road trip essentials. The top ways respondents will change their future road trips include traveling with spare masks and gloves (50%); only stopping at pre-planned places where they know it’s clean/safe (40%); and bringing different supplies (37%).
  • Trusted road trip stops. When taking their next road trip, respondents will feel most comfortable stopping at fast food restaurants (48%); travel centers/gas stations (41%); only places they know have increased their cleaning procedures (41%); and non-fast food restaurants (41%).

This year, Pilot is featuring the “Reimagined Road Trip” promotion, with opportunities on social media for a chance to win a $500 gift card. The retailer will select a winner every day from May 18-22 from those who have shared how they are answering the call of the road.

*Pilot isNo. 12 on theTop 40 update to CSP’s 2019 Top 202 ranking of U.S. c-store chains by number of retail outlets.CSP will release the complete 2020 list in June.

Pilot, based in Knoxville, Tenn., supplies more than 11 billion gallons of fuel per year and has a network of more than 950 retail and fueling locations. The Pilot Flying J travel center network includes locations in 44 states and six Canadian provinces with more than 680 restaurants, 73,000 truck parking spaces, 5,300 showers, 6,200 diesel lanes and 35 Truck Care service centers. The One9 Fuel Network provides fleets and professional drivers with more places to stop at a variety of fueling locations.

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