ORLANDO, Fla.—According to AAA Travel, health concerns and high unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic are impacting Americans’ decisions to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. With health and government officials stressing that staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick, AAA anticipates at least a 10 percent drop in travel—the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008.
Based on mid-October forecast models, AAA would have expected up to 50 million Americans to travel for Thanksgiving—a drop from 55 million in 2019. However, as the holiday approaches and Americans monitor the public health landscape, including rising COVID-19 positive case numbers, renewed quarantine restrictions, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel health notices, AAA expects the actual number of holiday travelers will be even lower.
“The wait-and-see travel trend continues to impact final travel decisions, especially for the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”
Those who decide to travel are likely to drive shorter distances and reduce the number of days they are away, making road trips the dominant form of travel this Thanksgiving. Travel by automobile is projected to fall 4.3 percent to 47.8 million travelers and account for 95 percent of all holiday travel.
AAA anticipates Thanksgiving air travel volume will be down by nearly half of prior years to 2.4 million travelers. This would be the largest one-year decrease on record. Travel by other modes—including buses, trains, and cruises—is expected to decline 76 percent to 353,000 travelers.
AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the Thanksgiving holiday travel period is defined as the five-day period from Nov. 25-29, 2020. In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using macroeconomic drivers such as employment; output; household net worth; asset prices including stock indices; interest rates; housing market indicators; and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel, and hotel stays. For the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday travel forecast, IHS Markit also examined changes in the IHS Markit containment index regarding local COVID-19-related restrictions as well as the national case count and trend.