As summer gets into full swing, AAA predicts number of travelers to be down

The "Welcome to Utah" sign is shown Friday, April 10, 2020, in Salt Lake...
The "Welcome to Utah" sign is shown Friday, April 10, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Travelers coming into Utah will be required to identify themselves and report any coronavirus symptoms as they arrive, Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Highways will be "geofenced" at the five most common entry points so drivers get a text message through a federal wireless emergency alert system asking them to fill out an online form if they are staying in the state, authorities said. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)(KMVT)
Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 10:13 AM CDT
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As the summer of 2020 gets into full swing and COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in many areas of the nation, AAA is predicting the number of travelers will be down this year in the United States.

AAA officials on Thursday released projections that estimate Americans will take 700 million trips this summer, based on economic indicators and state re-openings associated with the coronavirus.

While that is a lot of trips, the number is down nearly 15% compared to last July through September, AAA says. It marks the first decline in summer travel since 2009.

AAA officials say booking trends indicate Americans are making travel plans, though they are doing so with caution and are tending to make them on more of a spur-of-the-moment basis.

“Americans will get out and explore this summer, though they’re taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to booking and are likely to book more long weekend getaways than extended vacations,” says AAA Kansas spokesman Shawn Steward. “When venturing out, travelers will take to the road with 683 million car trips, which are likely to help relieve cabin fever and satisfy pent-up demand.”

This summer is expected to see the return of the Great American Road Trip, AAA says, as cars will be the favored mode of transportation. AAA says trips by automobile will account for a whopping 97% of vacations. Car trips also will see the smallest decrease in travel volume at just 3% from 2019.

“The Great American Road Trip is still one of the best ways to extend family bonding while exploring stateside destinations, and it can give many the feeling of safety and control,” Steward says. “Regardless of where you’re headed, planning ahead ensures your travel experience will be both safe and enjoyable.”

Travel by plane will take a big hit, AAA says. Air travel will be off by about 74%, while rail, cruise ship and bus travel will slide by 86%.

If not for the pandemic, AAA officials say they would be projecting 857 million trips during the third quarter, a 3.6% increase over last year.

By this analysis, AAA says, the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out nearly 150 million trips this summer.

With travel restrictions lifting but social distancing still recommended, AAA says there is no surprise that 97% of summer vacations are road trips. That’s up from an average of 87% over the last five years.

Road trips allow travelers to make their own schedule and customize stops based on comfort level and interests, AAA says. For families, especially those with small children, road trips are an easy and less expensive way to travel. And an added benefit right now, gas prices remain low.

AAA expects the national gas price to average near $2.25 a gallon for the third quarter of 2020, which will be a 15% decline from the $2.66 average of the 2019 summer. AAA says this will be the cheapest summer for filling-up since 2016.

Kansas currently has the tenth least expensive average gas prices in the nation. On Thursday, AAA says, the average Kansas gas price was $1.94.4 a gallon.

The hot spot for summer travel this year is Denver, AAA says. The Mile High City has taken over as the most preferred destination for travelers, eclipsing Orlando, Fla.

Rounding out the top 10 destinations are Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Seattle; Phoenix; Portland; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Orlando; San Diego; and Nashville.