By Cortney Fries
While COVID-19 might not cancel holiday travel for some this year, it will certainly have a big impact. Bookings in 2020 are down from last year and travelers have been staying closer to home. However, more lenient cancelation policies, the hopes of cruising and the re-opening of many international destinations have caused optimistic explorers to start planning their getaways.
Research companies and two AAA Travel Agents from the Carolinas share insights on what’s trending for Christmas through New Year’s travel and beyond. We also have some tips for helping to stay safe while trying to keep up holiday travel traditions and quenching a little bit of wanderlust in the current conditions.
Wishing to Visit Friends and Relatives
After not seeing some family members and friends since March or earlier, many Americans who plan to travel are craving to reconnect with the ones they love, according to Longwoods International, a leader in consumer travel research. However, visiting family and friends for the holidays will look different this year, says Tiffany Heinisch, AAA Travel Agent from Columbia, South Carolina, with social distancing and not wanting to compromise those with weakened immune systems.
Many of the vacations that Heinisch has booked for clients in November through December this year are rebookings from spring when COVID-19 hit. Trips for 2021 and even 2022 are also being scheduled. “Travelers still want to take their trips, but are aware of the restrictions,” she says. Thankfully, travel companies have started publishing itineraries and pricing further in advance.
Generous Cancellation Policies
“Many hotels adjusting their cancellation policies, followed by the big sweep of airlines getting rid of change fees has put a lot of people’s minds at ease and encouraged more booking,” says Brittany Mitchell, AAA Travel Agent in Charlotte. Working with a AAA Travel Agent can help provide insight and clarity in a world of changing policies.
Closer to Home Holiday Magic
In previous years, travel to Christmas markets across the globe was booming in popularity. This year, many travelers are seeking options within a few hours driving distance of home. AAA Travel Agents in the Carolinas are seeing more requests for closer-to-home holiday magic destinations, like the Biltmore Estate, Gatlinburg and New York City.
According to Sojern, a company that analyzes traveler data, the top five destinations in the Carolinas booked between Jul. 1 and Sept. 15 for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were Charlotte, Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Asheville and Raleigh. AAA Travel Agents in the Carolinas also note interest in visiting theme parks like Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Studios Florida for the holidays. “Families are looking to get out and do something exciting before the year end,” says Mitchell. Heinisch has been impressed following Disney wait times. “That’s been some of the best “Welcome Home” feedback I’ve received,” she shares.
Flexibility is Key
The main requests Heinisch has fielded are for affordable, flexible and safe options, where destinations are responsibly handing the current conditions. As the pandemic can shift at any time, it’s important to have a Plan B. However, Heinisch notes how open the lines of communication have been with travel companies. “We’ve got a great idea of what to expect and what amenities will be available,” she says.
Last Minute Plans
According to Zeta Global, a data powered marketing technology company, many summer travelers waited to book their trips 7-14 days prior to departure due to uncertainty. Similarly, many travelers are expected to book their Thanksgiving and Christmas stays one to two weeks prior to the holidays, as they wait to see where areas are in the COVID-19 recovery process. However, Heinisch recommends planning earlier as supply and demand can drive up prices. “Many hotels are leaving hotel rooms empty for at least 24 hours after a client checks out, which leaves less capacity,” she explains.
According to Sojern, the length of stay during travel is increasing. With some children elearning and adults more able to work remotely, travelers have been taking advantage of this flexibility by increasing their time spent at their destination. Instead of only staying for a few days, many travelers are booking weeks or longer.
Looking Forward to Cruising Again
Mitchell is pleasantly surprised by the number of December cruise inquiries coming into the AAA Charlotte office. “I love how optimistic travelers are about the start of cruising returning,” she says. “The avid holiday cruisers are still looking for the opportunity to keep up tradition.”
According to Zeta Global, you can expect to snag some savings on those early 2021 holidays, like Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in January and Presidents’ Day in February. Make sure to check in with your AAA Travel Agent regarding additional promotions and deals with AAA preferred travel partners.
Travel Off the Beaten Path
“There are many cities in America that aren’t known as tourist hot spots, but are still beautiful and fun nonetheless, “says Heinisch. Discover a lesser-known gem and enjoy nature.
Tips for Traveling this Holiday Season
When in public or unable to social distance, wear a mask, use hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. If you’re feeling any sort of sickness, reschedule. Mitchell recommends traveling earlier in the week (Sunday – Wednesday) to avoid crowds and during off-peak hours. Early morning or red-eye flights are likely to be less crowded and less expensive, too.
“Discuss your options for travel insurance and cancellation policies with your travel agent,” recommends Mitchell. “Keep your money safe too!” Happy holidays and safe travels.
Your local AAA Travel Agent is ready to help you with all your holiday travel plans and beyond. Call 800-750-2865 and speak to a travel expert today!