BOSTON — The COVID-19 pandemic is casting a shadow on U.S. consumers’ summer road-trip plans, a recent survey has found.
In GasBuddy’s 2020 Summer Travel Study, 31% of Americans said they were planning to take a road trip this summer, compared to 44% in the 2019 survey. Meanwhile, more than half of consumers had not yet decided whether to take a road trip, while 18% have definitively ruled out the idea.
Here are three factors influencing consumers’ road-trip planning this summer ...
The coronavirus equation
The COVID-19 pandemic was the deciding factor for most consumers, with 72% saying it directly affected summer travel plans. For 48%, it was influencing them to take fewer road trips than previously planned, and 24% said it was shortening the distance of their planned trips. Another 36% said the pandemic was making them cancel trips that required flying.
“There could be a surge in last-minute, shorter road trips in the second half of summer as people continue to assess the situation,” said Sarah McCrary, CEO of Boston-based GasBuddy.
In terms of destinations, most survey participants—or 6 in 10—said they planned to visit friends and family. Another 38% said they would head to a beach or lake, and 24% planned to visit a national park.
The interest in road trips varied somewhat by region. The Southwest had the highest percentage of consumers who were planning a road trip this summer at 34%. GasBuddy pointed out that Texas, which allowed its shelter-in-place order to expire in late April and ranks among the top three states in gasoline consumption, was a big factor in why this region had a larger share of consumers planning a road trip. The Northeast, home to the two states with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases—New York and New Jersey—had the smallest percentage of consumers planning a road trip, or only 28%.
Pump prices hold sway
This spring’s low gasoline prices—the national average retail price is more than $1 per gallon below year-ago levels—are influencing travel plans. For those consumers who plan to take a road trip, 36% cited low gasoline prices as a factor. This compares to only 6% who cited low gas prices in the 2019 survey and only 5% in the 2018 study.
Fuel demand has picked up about 5% since mid-April, according to data from transactions made with GasBuddy’s Pay With GasBuddy payment card.
GasBuddy’s Summer Travel Survey was completed by 1,820 GasBuddy members between April 30 and May 4, 2020. Summer travel is defined as any trips taking place between May 22 and Sept. 7, 2020, or Memorial Day to Labor Day.