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WASHINGTON, D. C. (Monday, May 24, 2021) –– It’s a harbinger of a summer travel surge after the “lost year.” AAA expects a significant rebound in travel this summer, as evidenced by the results of an exclusive survey of District residents that reveals 71% of respondents are considering or planning to take a trip this summer, and AAA Travel is already seeing an increase in bookings that reflects the renewed enthusiasm.*
“Optimism coinciding with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and growing consumer confidence are fueling a strong desire to travel this summer as the US takes steps toward putting the pandemic behind us,” said John B. Townsend II, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “The AAA poll shows that residents in the District of Columbia have a pent-up demand for quick getaways and even longer, more extravagant trips – so called ‘Revenge Travel.’”
AAA’s poll asked residents in the District of Columbia about the sentiment that best reflects their feelings about traveling this summer:
- 36% feel that their travel will be driven by their need for a “quick getaway”
- 25% are planning a longer or more extravagant trip – so called “Revenge Travel”
- 18% are choosing to stay at home this summer
- 20% are undecided, but say they could make a last minute decision to travel.
COVID Remains a Factor in Some Summer Travel Planning
Summer travel trends are also indicative that people are feeling more comfortable traveling as COVID rates are decreasing. Adding to that, state restrictions are lessening and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance says that fully vaccinated people can resume activities that they did prior to the pandemic, including domestic travel at low risk to themselves, while taking proper precautions.
AAA’s poll also revealed COVID remains a factor influencing the summer travel plans of Washingtonians:
- 43% say they still have COVID-related travel concerns
- 15% have a strong desire to travel due to pandemic restrictions from the last year
- 27% feel that their ability to be fully vaccinated is the driving force behind travel plans
- 16% say that uncertainty about activities and attractions at their destinations is a consideration as part of the planning process
According to the same poll, in the District of Columbia, 61% of respondents said that when thinking about their next trip, they plan to travel with only those in their household or those in their established “COVID-19 bubble.”
“COVID-related safety is still a factor for many travelers, some of whom may be venturing out for the first time in over a year,” Townsend added.
As the AAA poll shows, American views about traveling as we emerge from the COVID pandemic are complex. Knowledge of the latest COVID-related restrictions and protocols will be a critical component in all planning.
“Being informed and planning in advance can make the difference between a great vacation and a travel nightmare,” said Micki Dudas, Director, Leisure Travel, for AAA Club Alliance. “AAA is encouraging travelers to check and re-check requirements at all stop off points and destinations as they can change up to the last minute.”
Travel advisors are an excellent resource for not only travel planning, but also for what documentation is required and much more. In most cases, they can provide free expert travel advice and can help travelers navigate the complexities of traveling during COVID.
Memorial Day – The Unofficial Start to Summer Travel
The unofficial start to summer, the Memorial Day weekend, is indicative that people are feeling more comfortable traveling as COVID rates are decreasing in the United States, and as the nation takes steps to putting the pandemic behind us.
AAA expects the number of people in the Washington, D.C. metro area traveling over the Memorial Day holiday this year to return to 89% of those who traveled pre-pandemic, in 2019, when a record number of people in the Washington, D.C. metro area traveled for the holiday weekend.
Most District residents who are staying home for Memorial Day say COVID is not the reason as they don’t usually travel for this holiday, according to the AAA poll.
A total of just over 934,800 people in the Washington, D.C. metro area are predicted to once again kick-off the official start of the summer holiday travel season by celebrating Memorial Day with a trip - an increase of almost 60% over last year when much of the country and the world was under COVID travel restrictions, if not locked down.** All told, 15% of residents of the Washington metro area, which boasted a 2020 populace of 6.3 million, will travel more than 50 miles for Memorial Day weekend.
- Auto: The Great American Road Trip has been the most popular type of travel during the pandemic and has historically been the number one choice for the Memorial Day Holiday and that still holds true. The majority of metro area travelers, 866,600, are forecast to travel by vehicle this Memorial Day, an increase of over 51% over 2020.
- Air: The number of Washington metro area residents flying in 2021 is expected to be almost six times what it was in 2020 when multiple factors kept most people from flying. More than 65,300 residents will travel by air, nearly a 573% increase from 2020.
- Travelers are reminded that some inflight amenities may be limited or not offered and that some airlines are still limiting capacity with blocked middle seats. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is also now allowing one oversized liquid container of hand sanitizer of up to 12 ounces.
- Masks are required at all airports and all aircraft. International travelers, including US citizens, must have a negative test result or proof of recovery from COVID before boarding flight to US. COVID testing is not required domestically, except for travel to and from Hawaii, and from island to island in Hawaii.
- Other: Travel by trains, buses, rails and cruise ships remains low at 2,800 passengers, but is a 31% increase over 2020.
In total, 2.78 million persons residing in the Washington metro area, Maryland and Virginia will venture more than 50 miles from home during the Memorial Day travel period. A sum of 2.58 million residents will travel by automobile to their holiday destinations.
Travel delays in the Washington metro area will increases ten percent along 1-95 south, and along I-395 to VA-123 on Thursday, May 27, especially from 3:30 that afternoon until 5:30 p.m. Prior to the pandemic, I-395 routinely experienced gridlock conditions during the P.M. peak hours. During the upcoming holiday getaway period, traffic volumes will be heavily constrained as people head to the exits.
AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Memorial Day 2021
Travel Projections for the Washington SMSA At-A-Glance
Total Travel & Percentage
Automobile Travel & Percentage
Air Travel & Percentage
Other Modes of
Travel & Percentage
Up 59.7% from 585,191 travelers in 2020.
(93% of all area travelers).
Up 51.2% from 573,300 in 2020.
(7% of all area travelers).
Up 572.9% from 9,700 in 2020.
(0.3% of all area travelers).
Up 31% from 2,200 in 2020.
AAA National Travel Projections
From May 27 through May 31, more than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, also an increase of 60% from last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.
Most of those traveling - more than 34 million or almost 93% - will be traveling by car.
Almost 2.5 million will be flying to their destinations, an increase of 577% over last year – but still almost 25% fewer than pre-pandemic (2019). About 237,000 will travel by bus, rail, cruise or some other mode of transport.
INRIX predicts drivers will encounter the longest travel delays before the holiday weekend, particularly during the afternoons on Thursday, May 27 and Friday, May 28. Drivers in several major U.S. metros could experience double the travel times compared to a normal trip, while Atlanta, Houston and New York drivers could see more than three times the delay on the busiest corridors.
Great American Road Trip Campaign
As Americans begin their Great American Road Trips this summer, AAA is here and ready to help. We’ve compiled our favorite trip-planning resources, backed by more than 100 years of road-tested experience and expertise. AAA.com/RoadTrip is a free resource to help travelers find inspiration, explore destinations, plan the perfect route and get their vehicle road trip ready.
Regardless of how you plan to get to your destination, AAA advises travelers to consult with a knowledgeable travel advisor to help plan their trips this Memorial Day. To get started and to learn more, visit AAA.com/Travel
*The AAA survey of 623 residents in Washington, D.C. was conducted April 22-23, 2021 by Public Policy Polling. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.9%.
** AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 27 through Monday, May 31. The five-day holiday period is consistent with previous Memorial Day holiday periods. This forecast was finalized during the week of April 12.
In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using macroeconomic drivers such as employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays. For the 2021 Memorial Day holiday travel forecast, IHS Markit also examined changes in the IHS Markit containment index regarding COVID‑19–related restrictions and activity.
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