USA spotlight – Americans reached their ‘tripping point’ less than 30 days into lockdown, says Expedia, now air and road travel levels are continuing to edge up even if travel spending has slowed

20 October, 2020

An increasing number of travel leaders are highlighting the pent up demand for travel will mean that the travel and tourism industries will quickly rebound once the conditions permit. Earlier this month Expedia revealed a new name for the phenomenon - the 'tripping point' - defined as the intense need for a break from the routine and the moment at which day-to-day responsibilities become too much and result in the desperate need for a change of scenery.

For many adults, it would be an understatement to say the past six months or so have been a balancing act. Juggling new realities of work, school, household chores and errands has become monotonous. Through a survey of 1,000 adults aged 18-45, Expedia has examined how reaching the tripping point impacted US travellers during lockdown and continues to shape our future trips.

It found that on average, Americans reached their tripping point just 27 days after the introduction of stay-at-home mandates, though a quarter (24%) reached that point in the first week. The top three ways travellers managed these feelings were through self-care (41%), spending more time outside (28%) and planning a big future trip (20%), but it means that nearly half (44%) are planning to travel before the end of the year.

For the four out of five (80%) respondents who reported reaching their tripping point the biggest factor was the need to get out of the house and find a change of scenery (46%). Behind that was a need for some alone-time or space from family or roommates (25%) and wanting to see friends or family in another location (25%).

As Americans sought to manage feelings of being cooped up, more than a quarter of respondents said they took a road trip or staycation (28%) or found relief by researching or dreaming of a future trip (20%). Expedia data from the early stages of the pandemic supports this finding, with the top-searched destinations including warm-weather, relaxing vacations spots like Mexico, the Caribbean, Hawaii and the Maldives.

Latest data supports a general improving trend. Air travel picked up its pace of growth with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) passenger screenings for the seven days through 13-Oct-2020 reached a new average daily pandemic high of 852,000. The level was up +12% compared to the previous week, partly attributed to the Columbus Day holiday. However, screenings over the last seven days were still -65% lower than in the same period last year, better than any other week since Mar-2020 (except the Labor Day period when levels were down -64%.

Meanwhile, Arrivalist's Daily Travel Index, which measures consumer road trips of 50 miles or more in all 50 US states shows that road travel increased further on the last week on a year-on-year basis and is now nearly at 2019 levels. That-5.5% decline is by far, its best performance in any week (other than the Labor Day weekend) since the start of the pandemic and reflects a significant improvement from lows of -70% year-on-year in early Apr-2020.

According to a recent AAA Travel survey, American travellers are making vacation plans through the end of the year, but remain cautiously optimistic about those future plans. Two-thirds of Americans planning travel before the end of the year reported some degree of uncertainty they will actually be able to take their break. As a result, many trips are being booked last minute: one in five Americans planning a trip before the year's end are doing so within one week of traveling. Eight in 10 trips this autumn are expected to be road trips, primarily to destinations known for outdoor recreation activities.

Further research from iMeet in its Planner Confidence Index highlights that the percentage of planners who believe they will resume face-to-face meetings by the end of the year improved to 16% this week - up from 10%. More than half of planners have one or more request for proposals for the future in progress and 72% of planners have at least one future face-to-face meeting contracted. Looking into 2021, 40% of planners are targeting the first half of 2021 to resume face to face meetings (down from 55% last week), with the majority (33%) targeting 2Q.

Behind this travel spending is continuing its recovery, though growth slowed to 2% last week following its 5% expansion the prior week, according to latest research from Oxford Economics for US Travel Association. Positively, in the week ending 10-Oct-2020 travel spending rose to USD13.1 billion - the highest level seen from a non-national holiday week since the beginning of the pandemic.

The percentage loss from 2019 improved slightly to down -41% from down -42% last week, but still resulted in a USD9.1 billion loss when compared to the same week a year ago and bringing total travel economy's losses from the pandemic to USD415 billion since the beginning of Mar-2020. This pace would result in approximately USD41 billion of losses for the entire month, which would be on par with Sep-2020.

The week's modest gains "indicate we are now experiencing the base level for travel spending through the fall," says Oxford Economics, albeit that comes with the normal Covid caveat that notable risks face the travel industry as cases continue to rise across much of the country.

Travel spending losses for the week ending 10-Oct-2020 saw slight improvements to USD$2.2 billion in the Northeast and USD2.9 billion in the South. The Midwest remained flat with USD1.4 billion in losses, as did the West with USD2.6 billion in losses. The Midwest (-57%) and South (-37%) remained stagnant, while the West (-39%) and Northeast (-55%) edged higher with one- and two-percentage point improvements, respectively.

Hawaii, the District of Columbia, New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois "stubbornly" remain below 50% of 2019 weekly travel spending levels, says the latest US Travel Association weekly report. There are some "promising signs" with each of these states excluding Illinois, registering growth, it acknowledges. Notably, Hawaii, which has been one of the worst performing markets due to the necessity of air travel to access the islands, reached its highest spending level in the latest week analysis.