Skift Take

The holidays continue to point to friends and family reunions and as a result, soaring backyard tourism — in the U.S., but also beyond.

The Omicron variant uncertainty continues to loom over the travel industry and booster shots are all the talk, but just like Thanksgiving travel behavior showed, the news doesn’t appear to be dampening America’s holiday travel season ahead.

More than 106 million travelers are expected to hit the road and the domestic skies the week of December 23 to January 2, according to the year-end travel forecast from AAA. The numbers reveal an astounding recovery of 92 percent of 2019 levels.

“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new omicron variant,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a release. 

The greatest comfort around travel continues to point to drive destinations, as 91.5 percent of those going on holiday will choose to do so by automobile, the research shows, against just 5.8 percent by air. But other modes of transportation will also see a rebound, including buses, trains and cruises. 

Location intelligence platform Arrivalist’s Daily Travel Index also predicts road trips will continue to dominate over the holiday travel season, to the tune of 103 million Americans.

“The news about the new Omicron variant is likely to have a much bigger impact on air travel than road trips,” said Cree Lawson, founder and CEO of Arrivalist. “Over the last couple of weeks, 2021 road trip activity has been on par with 2019 volume, despite the increase in COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Vacation spots offering the great outdoors, whether beaches of rural areas, are sure to benefit the most as the year closes, a tendency that is only intensifying into 2022. At the top of the preferred holiday destinations are theme parks in Florida and California, as well as Hawaii and Miami, but also iconic big cities such as New York City and Las Vegas, AAA’s data shows.

Still the Omicron has had some impact on future plans for travel. Just over 25 percent of Americans said they are postponing, not canceling, some of their trips due to the new variant, according to Longwoods International’s latest travel sentiment survey. The survey also reveals that two-thirds of U.S. travelers for the upcoming holiday season are of the Visit Friends and Relatives segment.  

Outside of North America, a number of destinations in Africa and Asia are also counting on residents to boost the season, as hopes for a larger international rebound have been dashed due to a wave of Omicron travel bans and divergent entry rules deterring global tourism.

Hard-hit destinations such as Cape Town and Morocco recently launched specials for domestic travelers, while Japan is considering relaunching its domestic Go to Travel domestic promotion push in January.

Indeed, domestic campaigns remain a priority during what was traditionally a high international tourism season. The pandemic continues to shift the travel landscape, causing tourism boards to pivot again to adapt, as backyard exploration will continue to dominate in the year ahead so long as restrictions remain and vaccine inequity persists.

Tags: coronavirus recovery, domestic travel, holiday travel, road trips

Photo credit: Las Vegas ranks among the top December holiday spots for U.S. travelers. Abi Skipp / Flickr Commons