Holiday Travel Survey: AHLA’s Chip Rogers on What the Numbers Mean for the Industry

As the 43rd annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference was underway at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) released a commissioned survey conducted by Morning Consult that asked U.S. travelers about their upcoming holiday plans. The survey found that 29 percent of Americans are likely to travel for Thanksgiving and 33 percent are likely to travel for Christmas—an increase from 21 percent and 24 percent, respectively, compared to 2020. While an improvement over last year’s numbers, the results still show that more than half are unlikely to travel for these pivotal end-of-the-year holidays. LODGING spoke with Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO, during the conference about the survey findings and what they mean for the industry.

What’s the story behind these latest survey results?

There are two major factors at play here: first, there’s still some fear amongst some travelers, which is unfortunate because we’ve seen a lot of studies that show you’re no safer staying at home, going to the grocery store, and doing your normal activities than you would be traveling, but each person makes that decision for themselves. The second part is that there’s a direct relationship between the price of a gallon of gas and whether people are going to travel. Almost all travel [right now] is domestic, and that means a lot more of it’s by car as opposed to air. When gas is over $4 a gallon, people don’t drive as much. And that’s really unfortunate.

Now that international travel is more open, do you expect to see an increase in travel volume?

Getting international travel, at least for our industry, is incredibly important. These gateway cities that have struggled the most—whether it be San Francisco or New York or, to a lesser extent, Washington, D.C.—are cities that throughout the entire pandemic, from a hotel standpoint, suffered the most. Having international travel back will help them the most.

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Will more people traveling for Thanksgiving impact holiday travel volume near the end of the year?

Some of the increases that we’ve seen in the desire to travel for the holidays this year are directly related to the fact that people went on summer vacation this year and felt safe and comfortable doing so. Once you start doing it and you realize it’s not as dangerous as you may have previously perceived, then you’re just going to continue to do it. Higher Thanksgiving [travel volume] will result in higher Christmas and New Year’s and that’ll keep rolling.

What’s your pulse on the year ahead?

I think the general feeling is that we’re past Delta and absent another variant that results in a significant rise in cases, I think we’re on our road to recovery. People are planning now for 2022 travel well beyond the Christmas and New Year holidays. The time to book is now, because demand is picking up.

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Christine Killion is the editor of LODGING.