As if the travel industry needed more bad news, new research indicates that the vast majority of Americans will stay home this Memorial Day weekend.
In 2019, over 43 million Americans traveled for the three-day holiday, which is traditionally viewed as the kickoff to the summer travel season.
This year will be different due to the COVID-19 crisis, of course. According to the Harris Poll’s ongoing COVID-19 tracking survey, a whopping 95 percent of Americans are not planning to travel over Memorial Day weekend, with respondents citing the health risk to themselves (57%) or to others (40%) as reasons for staying home.
The findings align with the AAA’s announcement yesterday that it will not release a Memorial Day forecast for the first time in 20 years. The organization says the coronavirus pandemic has undermined the accuracy of its economic data.
Let’s do the math. If, as the Harris Poll suggests, only 5 percent of the 328 million Americans travel over Memorial Day this year, that would translate to roughly 16 million people.
That number would clobber the record for the lowest Memorial Day travel volume, currently held by 2009, when just under 31 million Americans traveled over the holiday weekend near the end of the Great Recession.
This year, we might be looking at just a bit more than half of that number.
The 2020 travel outlook
Looking beyond Memorial Day, only 22 percent of Harris Poll respondents said they plan to travel by the end of August. A slight majority (53%) even said they are putting off leisure travel until at least 2021, signaling that it may take more than a year for the travel industry to fully recover.
When asked what it would take to get them to travel this year, a significant majority of respondents said they would need to know that airlines and hotels are strictly enforcing sanitation (73%) and requiring that face masks are worn (66%).
Americans are split down the middle as to whether travel companies are doing enough to keep travelers safe, with 50 percent of those surveyed agreeing that airlines are doing enough and 53 percent agreeing that hotels are doing enough.
This implies that travel brands need to work harder to earn public trust during the pandemic. In recent weeks, major hotel chains and airlines have announced enhanced cleaning initiatives and other policies aimed at increasing social distancing and decreasing the number of touch points.
Questions have arisen, however, about how strictly these new policies are being enforced. Notably, the top three U.S. airlines have told their flight attendants to encourage, rather than force, passengers to comply with new policies requiring passengers to wear face coverings, according to Reuters.
Last weekend, United Airlines found itself in the eye of a social media storm after a passenger posted a selfie to Twitter showing a jam-packed air cabin, in apparent contradiction to the carrier’s pledge to block the middle seat on flights. Following an uproar, United announced that it will begin notifying passengers 24 hours in advance of flights that are full.