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U.S. sees sharp decline in travel due to COVID-19, according to AAA forecast

Travel forecast predicts largest drop in a decade

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Matthew Tiemann carries a mattress into his condo in Provo as he and his wife, Courtney, unload their belongings on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. The couple had planned to go on a cruise and then COVID-19 happened and their plans changed.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A recent travel forecast by AAA predicts a significant decline in summer travel this year due to COVID-19.

The forecast predicted that Americans will take nearly 700 million car trips this summer, which is down 15% from last year and is the largest decline since 2009.

Travel in the U.S. has fallen sharply since the beginning of the pandemic, with airlines and hotels taking the biggest hit.

“We are seeing the impact coronavirus is having on the travel landscape and keeping people off the road, physically distancing and staying home as much as possible,” said Aldo Vazquez, spokesman for AAA Utah. “In a perfect world without COVID-19, AAA had anticipated a 3.6% increase over last year’s summer travel.”

He said the pandemic “essentially wiped out over 150 million person-trips this summer.”

Kent and Mariam Black, of Garland, Box Elder County, had been planning a trip to Egypt and Israel in June for two years before the pandemic hit.

“We signed up with a group of other teachers and their families to go to Egypt, so we’ve been saving for two years for this. We’ve been going to classes every month to learn about Jerusalem and Egypt and what we’d be seeing there,” Kent Black said.

With that off the table, the Blacks said they are now considering taking a trip to Yellowstone next week, but it depends on the park’s social distancing protocols because Mariam Black is in the high-risk category for COVID-19.

“We have to check and see how well (people) are social distancing,” Kent said.

He said if they do take the trip, then they would be staying with family because they are still uncertain about the safety of staying in hotels during a pandemic.

“Americans will get out and explore this summer, though they’re taking a ‘wait-and-see approach’ when it comes to booking and are likely to book more long weekend getaways than extended vacations,” Vazquez wrote in a news release. “When they do venture out, the greatest share of travelers ... will take to the road to satisfy their wanderlust.”

People are booking more spur-of-the-moment trips based on data showing travelers making plans a couple of days to a week in advance, which is “significantly higher” than in previous years, according to AAA’s data.

According to the forecast, travel by vehicle is the preferred method at 97% in favor, which is a nearly 10% increase from the last five years’ average.

Travel by air has seen a huge decline of 73.9% from last year, and airlines around the U.S. have seen sharp declines in airfare. Trains, cruises and other modes of transportation have declined 85.5%.

Even with the declines, AAA reported seeing an uptick in travel trends since April with hotel and car rentals gradually increasing.

“Road trips allow travelers to make their own schedule and customize stops based on comfort level and interests,” Vazquez said in the release release. “For families, especially those with small children, it is an easy and less expensive way to travel. And an added benefit right now — gas prices remain low.”


Courtney Tiemann carries a box into her condo in Provo as she and her husband, Matthew, unload their belongings on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. The couple had planned to go on a cruise and then COVID-19 happened and their plans changed.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Courtney Tiemann said Royal Caribbean canceled a couple’s cruise she had planned for herself and her husband about a month before their trip was scheduled.

The cruise line offered them full credit and an additional 50% if they rebooked their cruise before the end of 2021.

“Obviously, we’re not sure what we want to do because cruising right now is very tricky,” Tiemann said.

Tiemann just moved back to Utah from Seattle after her husband was laid off due to the pandemic. They took some time to sightsee as they made their way back home, staying in their personal trailer along the way.

Tiemann said they stopped in the Grand Tetons and spent time on the Oregon coast. She said they are still uncomfortable with flying and feel like their camp trailer is safer for traveling at the moment.

“It’s been a little bit comforting knowing that, wherever we do go, it feels like people are being conscious of what’s going on,” Tiemann said. “But, it is kind of nice knowing we’re staying in our own little trailer; that way we don’t have to share facilities with anybody else.”


Courtney and Matthew Tiemann pose for a photo after unloading a truck of belongings into their condo in Provo on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. The couple planned to go on a cruise and then COVID-19 happened and their plans changed.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Vazquez advised travelers to plan their trips accordingly to account for potential closures and guest limits at national parks and other popular travel destinations.

The travel forecast also shows that searches for popular tourist destinations like Orlando, Florida, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, have declined. Orlando is usually the No. 1 searched destination, but Denver has taken its spot in light of the pandemic.

Florida has seen a sharp increase in cases over the last few days, prompting beach closures and the suspension of in-person alcohol sales at bars. Texas and Arizona are also seeing a rise in new infections.

AAA’s forecast also factored in traffic congestion, and findings show declines in congestion in some of the larger cities while others will largely remain the same. Most of the largest cities in the country will see a decrease in travel-related congestion.

Some states, however, are seeing a return to normal traffic congestion. Utah was among the states where traffic will be largely unchanged, with the forecast predicting travelers will “more than likely” encounter normal traffic conditions.

Overall, Vazquez said AAA is “optimistic” travel will increase this year and will grow rapidly as conditions permit.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that 700 million Americans will travel. It should have said Americans will take 700 million car trips this summer.