Summer travel outlook: What to expect as you plan your vacation

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The days are ticking down until the final bell rings to signal the start of summer for students throughout Virginia. For those hoping to book a trip, travel trends and coronavirus-related restrictions are changing rapidly, making planning especially important.

AAA Leisure Travel Vice President Chip Morgan said that travel this summer is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels, possibly even surpassing travel trends in 2019.

“The rollout of the vaccines, especially with the increased daily rate that we saw in the springtime, has certainly increased the consumer confidence level for travel,” Morgan said. “We’re seeing a number of travel trends this year, if you will, and one of those trends that we are seeing is something that we refer to as revenge spending.”

According to AAA, revenge spending happens in a situation where consumers have additional resources to utilize. Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, vacations were canceled or put on hold.

“They did not get to travel last year and want to make up for the lost time,” Morgan said. “What we’re seeing is spend more, stay longer. So a lot of people are upgrading their accommodations.”

With COVID-19-related restrictions in place, AAA Managing Director of Auto Travel & Travel Product and Services Debra Calvert said that many travelers are relying on their cars, as opposed to airplane, boat or train travel.

“2021 is certainly shaping up to be the year of the great American road trip,” she said. “AAA has seen an increase in TripTik requests, where we’re almost back to the 2019 levels. So people really are ready to get on the road and get out and explore America.”

With drivable destinations in mind, Calvert said that travelers are inquiring about theme parks and U.S. National Parks. She also warned that reservations at campgrounds may go quickly this summer, as AAA has seen an uptick in camping vacations and RV travel.

“I think the safest way to travel really is car travel,” Calvert said. “People are used to being in their car, it’s their own little space and they’re comfortable with making that plan for the road trip. But all other areas of the travel industry are following health and safety protocols.”

As more travelers venture out in their vehicles, Public & Government Affairs Senior Specialist Morgan Dean said that gas prices could continue to increase.

“We’re in uncharted waters right now after 2020. It’s hard to see much past the month in front of us,” he said. “As we lead into May here, we are looking for larger spikes this month, as we see demand increase, especially as we get closer to Memorial Day. The demand for fuel is about 4% below where we were back in 2019 at this time, showing us that people really are returning to the roads.”

With COVID-19 vaccination numbers increasing and lawmakers easing restrictions, Morgan said that consumers are starting to plan further out for their vacations.

“That booking window has extended tremendously from what we were typically used to pre-COVID, and that is because there’s a feeling, a much more secure feeling for safety, as people book into 2022 and 2023,” he said. “However, as things do open up, I think what we’ve all been missing is that short-term, two months, four moths out, that type of booking for travel will start to kick in as we see the cruise lines launch their operations and borders open around the world.”

Regardless of citizenship, those flying internationally into the U.S. are still required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, even if they are fully vaccinated. This also applies in Hawaii, where even domestic travelers must have their negative test results prior to departing for the Islands as an alternative to mandatory 10-day quarantine.

“Even if you may have a vaccination, that doesn’t mean you can’t become a carrier. Every state can be different in what the expectations are, what the restrictions are,” Morgan said. “The smartest thing is to be prepared and really understand what those requirements are.”

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