Is Memorial Day going to slingshot the travel industry into a summer recovery? The last few weeks of American consumer trip activity, as measured by the Arrivalist Daily Travel Index and the latest consumer research by Destination Analysts, Longwoods International, DK Shifflet, and others, appear to suggest the answer is ‘definitely maybe’.
In the weeks since trip activity in the U.S. bottomed out in early April, the Daily Travel Index has measured a steady increase in the number of consumers choosing to take a road trip. Initially, much of that increase has been observed for trips 50-100 miles from home, but longer trips have made a strong comeback in May. Trip activity has rebounded 59% for the U.S. as a whole, with a slight decrease in the pace of recovery over the past three weeks.
After two flat weeks to begin the month, travel activity was up just 12.6% between the weekends of May 8th and May 15th. The plateau in trip activity is quite possibly linked to Memorial Day weekend. Much like a rubber band steadily pulled back before being released…the first three weekends of May have seen slower growth but with an increasing, pent up demand for travel according to survey research, booking data, and travel news headlines. How far will the rubber band fly once loosed this Memorial Day Weekend? Predictions vary, but the strong upward trending for road trips over 100 to 250+ miles suggests that, for destinations that can accommodate them, the visitors could be coming in big numbers. Trips between 100-250 miles are up 55% from just four weekends ago, while trips over 250+ miles are up 74%.
Research from Destination Analysts and MMGY’s DK Shifflet suggests that consumers will be willing to travel up to 500 miles this summer, compared to the historical benchmark of 300 miles. The initial May weekend travel data supports this shift in consumer behavior, and we expect Memorial Day will provide even more reliable indicators.
Regionally, the biggest story is the Northeastern U.S., where travel activity spiked week over week to settle just over the Index baseline. This big single week increase, which coincided with near-perfect weather conditions throughout much of the region, places the region in the lead position for the biggest increase in trip activity (68%) since hitting a low on Friday, April 10th (for weekend travel). Trips between 50-100 miles continue to constitute the largest share of this increase in the Northeast, but longer trips have also started to show signs of life.
In other parts of the country, the Southwest, Southeast, and Midwest each plateaued with either moderate gains or a slight regression. All are up significantly from their early April lows (between 55-61%), but weekend trip activity continues to index well below even normal volumes seen in the winter weeks before the pandemic. That said, with many beach destinations and other locations open for business just in time for the Memorial Day Weekend, expect to see sizeable spikes in trip activity for at least the Southwest (especially Texas) and Southeast.
In the Western U.S., a steady upward trajectory has been measured for the past seven weeks, settling just over the index baseline for this past weekend (May 15-17th). Longer trips, over 100 miles, have shown a higher upward trajectory than in most parts of the country, though short trips between 50-100 miles continue to pace slightly behind. In California, trips over 250+ miles indexed 39% over the index baseline—or about half of the index value for a similar weekend in the months before the pandemic. So, although there is still a long way to go before we see normal volume in California, the trend for trip activity is accelerating upwards—especially in the longer mileage bands.
It has become widely accepted in the tourism industry that road trips will pave the way to recovery, no pun intended. A common complaint about ‘road-trippers’, however, is that they often travel exclusively on the weekends, rather than midweek when hotels and attractions most need the business. To track this subset of behavior for drive markets, we’ve created a new series of charts measuring trip activity by day. The data indicates that, thus far, these mid-week trips have shown only a slight increase from their April lows. Thursday is the primary bright spot, up 35% since April 1st. With the Memorial Day Weekend kicking off the summer travel season in just a few days, we expect to see these midweek trips increase significantly in the coming weeks.
In conclusion, the table seems to be set for a strong rebound in trip activity for the holiday weekend after three weeks of relatively moderate, but steady, growth throughout the country. Be sure to check back with us next Tuesday, May 25th to get the first look at trip activity over the Memorial Day Weekend.
Stay safe and travel responsibly!
The Team at Arrivalist