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Daily Travel Index: Weekly Briefing – Memorial Day Update: Road Trips Are Up Sharply

Published on May 28, 2020 in Blog, Daily Travel Index

Rediscovering the Great American Road Trip on Memorial Day
Rediscovering the Great American Road Trip on Memorial Day

Road Trips are up, following Memorial Day according to the Daily Travel Index – reveals changing travel patterns in a post-pandemic world.

Now that the unofficial start of the summer is behind us, it is time to dive into the Memorial Day insights from the Arrivalist Daily Travel Index. Did the holiday weekend propel the U.S. travel and tourism market into full recovery mode as prognosticated in last week’s blog post? The data says, road trips are up.

The Daily Travel Index (DTI) reached +50.9% over the baseline for Friday, May 23. This is the highest index value measured for the country since Arrivalist launched the DTI in March. Similarly Saturday’s index value was 19.5% – meaning that road trip activity on both days was 51% and 20% higher than the average day in February, respectively.

The Memorial Day Weekend led to a 48.5% increase in travel weekend over weekend when compared to May 15-16th. The holiday weekend was the most dramatic increase in weekend-over-weekend road trips in 2020, bringing road trip activity to within 70-80% of normal summertime volumes for many destinations throughout the country, though as a whole the U.S. drive market still lags far behind 2019 levels.

Compared to other selected holiday weekends in the previous 12 months, Memorial Day weekend 2020 road trips reached:

  • 68.2% of MLK Day weekend 2020 levels
  • 56.1% of Labor Day 2019 levels
Arrivalist US Daily Travel Index Memorial Day Weekend data

The majority of road trips measured since COVID19 were initially in the 50-100 mile range, reflecting the hesitant nature of the U.S. consumer to travel far from home in the previous 7-8 weeks. However, Memorial Day Weekend appeared to be jumping-off point for American travelers with road trip activity in the mid and long-range mileage bands (100-250+ miles) sharply increasing throughout the country.

Busy Memorial Day for Many Parks and Remote Locations

Some remote destinations and areas saw significant increase in year over year activity while others saw little to no activity.

Visits to Lake of the Ozarks, for example, increased 18.2% year over year and road trips also increased, year over year. 

Lake of the Ozarks Visitation in creases in Q2 2020

Remote attractions in the West, including Mount Rushmore, Lake Tahoe, Lake Norman, Half Moon Bay, Lake Powell and Grand Tetons National Park returned to 80% to 100% of their 2019 level of activity. Road trip activity to Napa Valley was up as well. 

Some road trip attractions with a drop off in year over year included Yosemite National Park in the West and Colonial Williamsburg and the National Mall in Washington, DC in the East.

Beaches Lead in the East

Visitation to beach destinations, a mainstay of Memorial Day road trips, saw a sharp uptick across the country—including those in the Northeast

South Padre Island in Texas had the most dramatic increase in visitation among beaches measured. Many popular beach destinations on the East Coast, including Myrtle Beach, the Jersey Shore, and Daytona Beach returned to 80% or more of their 2019 levels. Other destinations not measured by Arrivalist, including Ocean City, MD, also reported large crowds for the weekend.

Although overall car-based trips to the Jersey Shore did not reach 2019 levels for the holiday weekend (it is worth noting that Atlantic City casinos, a major draw to the area, remain closed) visitation did increase sharply. Measured drive market trips to the Jersey Shore reached near-summertime levels despite many attractions remaining closed and less than ideal beach weather.

Trips to the Jersey Shore out-paced Us Road Trip Activity

Arizona Residents Head to the Mall

The holiday weekend had an impact on retail activity as well. Arrivalist data measured continued growth in mall visits (which includes local residents) and longer dwell times over the Memorial Day weekend.

As with most other visitation data observed over the Memorial Day weekend, trends varied dramatically from one state to the next.  

Mall Traffic: Saturday 5/23 vs. Feb Saturday Average

State     % 

  • AZ 61%
  • MO 51%
  • FL 48%
  • GA 47%
  • SC 45%
  • IN 44%
  • TX 44%
  • NC 43%
  • All 43%
  • OH 41%
  • OK 40%
  • TN 40%
  • VA 34%
  • NH 31%
  • CA 27%
  • WI 21%
  • MN 20%

Visits to Malls have more than doubled from the initial openings in early May, and while most are still at or below 40% of pre-COVID levels, the data trends illustrate an increasing appetite from consumers to go out and shop.

Arrivalist observed changes in dwell time at shopping malls as well. The average time spent at Malls on the Friday of the Holiday weekend was 1 hour, 17 minutes, compared to a 1 hour average the previous three Saturday’s since reopening–an increase of 28.3%. This compares to an average time spent of 1 hour, 36 minutes on an average Saturday pre-pandemic.

Wide Variation in Travel Activity from State to State

While road trip activity was up week over week in all 50 states, the levels of activity still revealed distinct variations, likely due to a complex mix of factors including local weather, shutdown orders, regional sentiment, and varying desire to ‘staycation’ closer to home.

The top five states with the highest increase in weekend over weekend activity:

  • OR – +82.9% 
  • MO – +79.7% 
  • KS – +79.7% 
  • AR – +74.3% 
  • TX – +73.7% 

The bottom five states with the lowest increase in weekend over weekend:

  • DE – +5.6%
  • NJ – +7.2%
  • ND – +21.9%
  • CT – +23.4%
  • MD – +25.3%

The above image shows an increase in trip volume on May 22-23 compared to May 15-16 from residents of a particular state

Be sure to follow us on social media to follow along as we continue to monitor our Daily Travel Index and road trip activity this summer.