U.S. travelers threw their Thanksgiving road trip plans in reverse in 2020, defying predictions for one of the busiest road trip occasions of the year, and heeding the advice of public health experts who warned Americans to refrain from traveling during the holiday against the backdrop of a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths.
Road trip travel over the Thanksgiving holiday was down 35% from last year, according to our Daily Travel Index. The results are a departure from previous holidays earlier this year—such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day—when road trip activity rivaled or exceeded the same period in the previous year. Road trip activity observed over Thanksgiving made it the least traveled major holiday of the year, with less activity than observed over Memorial Day.
“Travel by private car—generally regarded as one of the safest and most available means of leisure travel during the pandemic—had begun establishing itself as a leading indicator of travel’s rebound,” said Arrivalist CEO, Cree Lawson. “That appears to have taken a back seat to people’s desire to protect themselves and each other from a surge of Covid-19 cases.”
The data was compiled from road trips of 50 miles or more initiated on Wednesday, November 25th or Thursday, November 26th, compared to the Wednesday preceding and Thursday of Thanksgiving last year. Road trips of less than 50 miles and travel completed by plane are not included in the calculations. Arrivalist will continue releasing updates from Thanksgiving road trips through the rest of the holiday weekend on the Daily Travel Index.
Those who did travel over the holiday were more likely to stay overnight (69.3%) than in 2019 when 68.2% of those who departed on Wednesday or Thursday stayed overnight. Trips observed in 2020 were also shorter with trips of 50-100 miles represented 46.1% of trips, up from 44.8% the year before.
“The pandemic trends are clearly not going to allow a broad reopening of travel nearly as soon as we hoped,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “It’s heartening to see Americans making decisions to keep safe, but the situation is exceptionally painful for travel businesses and workers, who are going to need substantial federal assistance in order to survive until a recovery can begin.”
Greatest Impact in the Northeast
Road trip activity varied greatly by state over the holiday. Nearly all states in the Northeast, plus Illinois and Ohio saw less than half the road trip activity of the prior year. States with the greatest reduction in road trip activity included:
Least impact in the West
The drop in year-over-year travel was pronounced in all states, with the smallest drop experienced in Utah, which was still down more than 13%.
“The travel industry didn’t have a Black Friday event this year,” said Lawson. He also noted that more road trip activity may come in the final days of Thanksgiving weekend but that the data so far does not indicate that will happen. “From a travel perspective, Thanksgiving 2020 looks just like any other weekend in 2020 – and a light one at that. It’s a bitter pill today but travel demand overall is as strong as ever, and I expect delivering a vaccine will give the industry a shot in the arm.”
The Daily Travel Index was designed as a free online resource available on Arrivalist’s website to provide the travel industry with insights to help plot its path to recovery during the Covid-19 pandemic. Site visitors can view trends in travel year-over-year by origin market and by mileage bands. Additionally, a customized Daily Travel Index is available to clients, which allows them to compare activity in their market to a nationwide index.