COLUMBUS — For the first time in 20 years, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast, as the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by COVID-19. The annual forecast — which estimates the number of people traveling over the holiday weekend — will return next year.
Memorial Day travel insights:
Anecdotal reports suggest fewer people will hit the road compared to years past for what is considered the unofficial start of the summer travel season. While the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) reports traffic volumes have started to ease back up after bottoming out in mid-April, last week Ohio’s traffic volumes were still down 40.8 percent compared to the same week last year.
“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend – the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel. “With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”
Memorial Day 2009, which fell during the Great Recession, currently holds the record for the lowest travel volume at nearly 31 million travelers, including nearly 1.2 million Ohioans, according to AAA. In comparison, last year, AAA predicted nearly 1.7 million Ohioans would travel during Memorial Day weekend. This year, travel numbers will likely be well below that.
Typically about 90 percent of Memorial Day travelers drive to their destination. This year will be no exception, as the vast majority of any travel that does occur will be close-to-home road trips.
“While many of you may have stopped driving, we’ve never stopped maintaining our roads and bridges,” said ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks. “Be alert for work zones and move over and slow down for any roadside workers you see. We also remind you that the rules of the road remain: Obey the speed limit, focus your attention on driving, drive sober, and buckle up.”
As motorists start driving their vehicles again, after parking them in March when Ohio’s Stay at Home Order began, AAA expects the number of vehicle breakdowns to increase. The auto club is already seeing this, as more Ohioans head back to work, and automotive experts expect the trend to continue as the weather warms and traffic increases.
Ohioans can make sure their car is road ready by following this simple car care checklist. In addition, AAA reminds drivers to be on the lookout for emergency road service technicians assisting motorists at the roadside. It’s important to slow down and move over for them.
Focus on domestic travel:
AAA expects to make travel projections for the late summer and fall, assuming states ease travel restrictions and businesses reopen. Already, there are indications that Americans’ wanderlust is inspiring them to plan future vacations.
AAA travel bookings have been rising, though modestly, since mid-April, suggesting travelers’ confidence is slowly improving. When it’s safe to travel, AAA predicts vacationers will have a preference for U.S destinations, mostly familiar locations that are close-to-home.
As Ohio slowly opens back up, travelers may find parts of their favorite destinations may still be closed. AAA recommends contacting the destination or working with a travel agent before booking. It’s also important to understand cancellation policies when booking any trip.
AAA has worked with the travel industry to compile the following information on popular Ohio destinations (Photos available upon request):
Lake Erie Shores and Islands: Cedar Point and water parks remain closed, but the islands are starting to reopen. Ferries to and from the islands are running, and shops and restaurants are starting to reopen at limited capacity. Visitors to Put-in-Bay will be able to rent bicycles and golf carts and experience Perry’s Monument. In addition to the islands, Lake Erie Shores and Islands expects natural areas where people can practice social distancing will be popular this summer.
Hocking Hills: Certain lodgings are starting to open to guests, including the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls and Glenlaurel Scottish Inn and Cottages, where guests can stay in private cabins. The major hiking trails and parks remain closed. Travelers can check the Hocking Hills Community website for an up-to-date list of open parks and trails.
Amish Country: According to the Ohio Travel Association, the newly remodeled Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center opened May 13, The Farm at Walnut Creek is open for self-driven tours, and Amish-style restaurants are finding innovative ways to offer the same experience, such as installing Plexiglas screens for buffets and having servers plate the food. Driving in Amish country to enjoy the scenery is also an activity that can be done at a safe social distance.
“The saying goes that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Americans are taking that first step toward their next journey from the comfort of their home by researching vacation opportunities and talking with travel agents,” said Twidale. “We are seeing that Americans are showing a preference and inspiration to explore all that our country has to offer as soon as it is safe to travel.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that Americans stay home and avoid non-essential travel. Americans should heed all official warnings and refer to the latest updates from the CDC and U.S. Department of State to help decrease the spread of COVID-19. AAA advises that the decision to travel is a personal one that must be made by the individual.
Those that do decide to travel will find that it will look a little different this summer. The U.S. Travel Association recently released a guidance titled “Travel in the New Normal.” It offers guidelines for the travel industry to promote the health of travelers and travel industry workers.