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Travel Forecast: Most Coloradans Staying Home for Holidays

DENVER (Dec. 15, 2020) - The vast majority of Coloradans will forego their travel plans and stay home this holiday season, per new data from AAA. Public health concerns, official guidance to limit travel, and an overall decline in consumer confidence will together lead to the first drop in year-end holiday travel since 2008, breaking a streak of 11 straight years of travel volume growth – including a new record set just last year. All told, in Colorado and across the country, 2020 marks the lowest holiday travel volume since 2002.

Nationwide, AAA projects that 84.5 million Americans may still travel from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3, a decline of at least 29 percent from 2019. In Colorado, AAA anticipates 1.5 million travelers – a figure that will likely drop further as many make last-minute decisions to cancel previous travel plans. The CDC urges Americans not to travel for the holidays this year, warning that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19.

"For more than a century, AAA has been encouraging folks to get up and go to wherever they'd like, whenever they'd like. Not in 2020. An extraordinary year demands an extraordinary message: Unless you absolutely have to travel, stay home this holiday season," said Skyler McKinley, director of public affairs for AAA Colorado. "The travel environment on the other side of this crisis will be unbelievably enriching – but to get there, we need to cancel our plans and keep our circles small. It will be worth it, I promise."

Colorado Travel by the Numbers

  • Automobile travel: All told, AAA forecasts that the overwhelming majority of Coloradans will travel by car, with 1.46 million hitting the road for the holidays – accounting for 95 percent of overall travel volume. Auto travel is expected to replace many trips previously taken by bus, train, or airplane, given the relative flexibility, security, and comfort traveling by car provides. Nationwide, 81 million Americans will travel by automobile.
  • Air travel: Just 61,000 Coloradans are expected to travel by airplane. They'll join the ranks of 2.9 million air travelers nationwide, a decline of 58 percent from 2019.
  • Other travel (bus, train, cruise): Fewer than 8,400 Coloradans will take other forms of travel for the holidays, as many canceled their more elaborate travel plans in response to the threats posed by COVID-19. Nationwide, travel by other modes will decline by 87 percent. The cruise industry remains shuttered and previous bus and train trips are increasingly being shifted to car travel or cancelled altogether.

Economic Factors

In addition to health concerns, economic factors driving down travel include:

  • While economic activity continues to rise from the depths of Q2 2020, GDP is expected to decline by 2.6 percent year-over-year during the fourth quarter.
  • Relative to the fourth quarter of 2019, the unemployment rate has nearly doubled – from 3.5 percent to 6.7 percent.
  • Absent additional government stimulus programs, consumer spending is expected to fall by 2.1 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter.

Traffic Outlook

Overall congestion during the holiday week will decline over years past. Still, travelers in major urban areas could still experience delays upwards of triple normal drive times at popular bottlenecks. AAA data suggest Thanksgiving traffic surged more than 30 percent above the daily pandemic average in some states, with a similar increase anticipated around the year-end holidays.

Gas Prices

Across the country, gas prices remain nearly 50 cents cheaper than this time last year. Recent monthly gas prices are 19 percent below 2019 averages.

In Colorado, motorists can expect to pay an average of $2.18 for a gallon of unleaded – down from $2.77 during the 2019 year-end travel period. Gas will be priciest in Vail, at $2.68 a gallon, and the cheapest in Boulder-Longmont, at $2.07 a gallon.

“Typically, cheaper gas prices tend to inspire people to take last-minute trips, especially around the holidays," McKinley said. "This year, remarkably, lower prices and reduced traffic aren't driving decisions to hit the road. Americans are instead looking to the public health landscape, including COVID-19 case counts, to make their travel decisions. That's the smart move."

AAA Rescues

AAA expects to rescue more than 905,000 motorists at the roadside over this holiday period. Dead batteries, lockouts and flat tires will be the leading reasons AAA members will experience car trouble. In Colorado, AAA anticipates more than 11,000 drivers will require assistance at the roadside during the travel period.

Preventable breakdowns and crashes increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 to our first responders, and require resources, such as hospital beds, that are needed to battle the pandemic.

AAA recommends motorists take their vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown. Find a good mechanic at AAA.com/Repair.

What to Know Before You Go

For Coloradans who make the personal decision to travel for the holidays, it is important to know the risks involved and how to keep yourself and others safe. In addition to CDC guidance, travelers should also be aware of local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders.

  • Review travel restrictions. Check AAA’s COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map as well as the CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker for the latest state and local travel restrictions.
  • Get tested. Many destinations require negative COVID tests before admitting travelers – and it's the right thing to do, no matter where you're traveling. AAA members with confirmed, near-term travel plans can schedule a rapid, non-invasive, PCR swab-based test at AAA.com/TravelFast. The CDC recommends taking a COVID-19 test one to three days before travel and another three to five days after travel, in addition to reducing nonessential activities for seven days after travel.
  • Follow Public Health Guidance. Consistent use of face masks combined with social distancing (at least 6 feet) and regular hand-washing 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.
  • Plan Your Road Trip. Use TripTik.AAA.com to plan your road trip and help determine which rest stops, gas stations, restaurants and hotels are open along your route. Also check out AAA.com/RoadTrips for more road trip inspiration. Make sure your car is in tip-top shape at AAA.com/Repair.
  • Verify Before You Go. Call ahead to minimize any last-minute surprises. 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 such as capacity reductions in common spaces, hotel staff requirements to wear masks at all times and if all amenities are available, like restaurant dining. 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. If flying, AAA reminds air travelers that in-flight amenities, including food and beverage services, may not be available. Also, as a precaution, wipe down your seat, armrest, belt buckle and tray table using disinfecting wipes.

About the Forecast

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Markit, a London-based business information provider. For the purposes of this forecast, the year-end holiday travel period is defined as the period from Wednesday, Dec. 23 to Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. The 12-day holiday period is the same length as last year. This forecast was finalized during the week of Nov. 23.

In cooperation with AAA, IHS Markit developed a unique methodology to forecast actual domestic travel volumes, using macroeconomic drivers such as employment; output; household net worth; asset prices including stock indices; interest rates; housing market indicators; and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays. For the 2020 year-end holiday travel forecast, IHS Markit also examined changes in the IHS Markit containment index regarding local COVID-19-related restrictions as well as the national case count and trend.

About AAA – The Auto Club Group
AAA Colorado is a proud part of The Auto Club Group (ACG), the second-largest AAA club in North America with more than 14 million members across 14 U.S. states, the province of Quebec and two U.S. territories. ACG and its affiliates provide members with roadside assistance, insurance products, banking and financial services, travel offerings and more. ACG belongs to the national AAA federation with more than 60 million members in the United States and Canada. AAA’s mission is to protect and advance freedom of mobility and improve traffic safety. For more information, get the AAA Mobile app, visit AAA.com, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Learn more.

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