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COVID-19 impacts Virginia holiday travel: Expected to be lowest in two decades

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AAA expects at least 34 million fewer travelers compared to last year’s holiday season. That still means that as many as 84.5 million Americans may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3.

That said, AAA projects that the number of travelers in Virginia for the holiday will be the lowest in 19 years. Automobile travel in the Commonwealth is expected to be the lowest since 2008, down 26% from last year. The number of airline travelers will see the biggest decline, predicted to be the lowest in at least 20 years and down 60% from 2019.

“Travel numbers this year are not only expected to be the lowest we have seen in close to two decades, but steadily increasing cases of COVID-19 and the governor’s newest restrictions, enacted on December 14 may drive the actual travel volume even lower as some Virginians decide to stay home and play it safe,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“While Thanksgiving is traditionally spent gathering with friends and family, the year-end holidays are when Americans often venture out for longer more elaborate vacations. That will not be the case this year,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president, AAA Travel.  “Public health concerns, official guidance not to travel, and an overall decline in consumer sentiment have encouraged the vast majority of Americans to stay home for the holidays this year.”

The CDC urges Americans not to travel for the holidays this year, warning that travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

For those who make the personal decision to travel, it is important to understand the risks involved and take steps to keep yourself and others safe.

Seek the advice of a trusted travel advisor and refer to AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map and for the latest state and local travel restrictions, and to help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are open along your route.

What to know before you go

  • Plan Ahead. Check for local guidance and restrictions along your route and at your destination.  This includes what is expected of you when you return home. Many localities are requiring COVID-19 testing prior to and after travel.
  • Follow Public Health Guidance.
    • The CDC recommends taking a COVID-19 test one to three days before travel and another three to five days after travel, plus reducing nonessential activities for seven days after travel. Travelers should be aware of these and other local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders, and additional CDC guidance for before, during and after their travels.
    • Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least 6 feet) and regular handwashing are the best ways to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19. Be sure to pack face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a thermometer to help protect and monitor your health. Also pack water and extra snacks to reduce the need to stop along your trip.
  • Verify Before You Go. Call ahead to minimize any last-minute surprises.
    • Hotels – Prior to any hotel stay, call ahead to ensure your hotel is open and ask what precautions they are taking to protect guests. Ask about social distancing protocols like capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining.
    • Car rentals – If renting a car, ask what has been done to clean the vehicle. Hertz, for example, has introduced Hertz Gold Standard Clean, an enhanced vehicle disinfectant and sanitization process. For extra peace of mind, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down door handles, steering wheels, shifters and control panels.

Holiday travelers are continuing to take a wait-and-see approach to their travel decisions. With COVID‑19 cases steadily increasing this month, the expected continued rise will likely prompt some Americans to make last minute decisions to not follow through with upcoming travel plans, which was the trend during the lead up to Thanksgiving.

Based on mid-October travel forecast models, AAA expected up to 50 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, which would have been a decline of 10 percent from 2019.

While final Thanksgiving travel numbers are not yet available, AAA expects the decline to be closer to 15–20 percent, as the CDC and state and local authorities advised against holiday travel.

augusta free press
augusta free press