America is slowly but surely reopening for business. The start of May saw more than a dozen states relaxing lockdown measures that were imposed as the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic began. While Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee began relaxing rules earlier in the week these states followed suit as of Friday to varying degrees: Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.
The coronavirus crisis is creating health and economic concerns for just about everyone. A bit further down the priority list, it’s also impacting travel plans for a lot of people.
San Francisco-based Destination Analysts is tracking American travel sentiment as the travel industry continues to grapple with COVID-19 fallout and to look for clues to normalcy’s return. During a web event hosted by Visit Santa Barbara, results from their 4th week of analysis based on a survey of 1216 travelers fielded April 3 through 5 were released. Even amidst the daily tally of coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths, 41 percent have tentative plans to travel in July and/or August. Sixty-nine percent of US travelers say they miss traveling and are anxious to hit the road again, a number that continues to rise.
For major sectors of the travel industry, the new numbers show that safety and health concerns have made hesitation soar. For example, more than 86 percent of travelers feel unsafe about cruising, 85 percent feel unsafe about international travel, 81 percent are concerned about flying, between 75 percent and 77 percent are second-guessing going to amusements parks and restaurants, and close to 70 percent are not sure about the safety of staying at a hotel.
People are feeling more comfortable with road trips and outdoors activities like hiking and biking which suggests to me that when travel begins to return, local and regional travel will rebound first. When will “normal” travel activity return? I’m thinking June as a likely marker for a gradual turnaround with summer offering a travel deals bonanza and fall becoming the “new summer” for many travelers.
More people will visit national and state parks and be in the outdoors away from crowds in the wake of the coronavirus. The types of vacations they take will likely change too. Road trips are poised to make a resurgence and more people are expected to gravitate to the great outdoors and similar social distancing-friendly destinations. Low fuel prices and the peace of mind and flexibility that come with being in your own vehicle will make RV road trips an especially appealing vacation option.
When the highly lethal and infectious Spanish flu swept through the country a century ago, U.S. national park visitation numbers which had been growing substantially took a dip in 1918 as the pandemic started. What happened next could be a sign of how travelers will respond to the coronavirus. The 1918 flu pandemic, thought to be the deadliest in human history, killed at least 50 million people worldwide (the equivalent of 200 million today) with half a million of those in the United States.
The number in 1918 went down to 436,000 (most analysts concur that Spanish flu, not World War I, drove the bulk of the decrease). People were either too sick or too scared to travel. Then, in 1919, it jumped to 781,000. In 1920, when the pandemic was basically over it jumped again, another 250,000 to over 1 million. From there on, it was fairly stable.
This suggests to me that we’ll go through a period when travel is very slow and as people start to feel comfortable again we’ll see an explosion of travel in general.
With social distancing the new normal, more travelers will seek out more remote, off-the-beaten path destinations to provide a little more elbow room between them and other travelers. Once this thing is over we’ll see RV travel go through the roof. People will have such a lust of going out there to see the country.
As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”