In some ways, Memorial Day next Monday will be the same as in previous years. And in other ways, it won’t be.
For the first time in 20 years, AAA will not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast, as the accuracy of the economic data used to create the forecast has been undermined by COVID-19, the company stated. Other reports suggest fewer people will hit the road this holiday for what is considered the unofficial start of the summer travel season.
“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend — the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” stated Aldo Vazquez, spokesman for AAA Arizona. “With physical distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”
However, AAA says there are indications that citizens’ wanderlust is inspiring them to plan future trips. Online bookings at www.AAA.com/travel have been rising modestly since mid-April.
In addition, as of May 6, 77% of American travelers with trips planned in the next six months said they’ll change their travel plans due to COVID-19, down slightly from 79% the prior week, according to a weekly survey conducted by Longwoods International.
When it is safe to travel, AAA Arizona expects people to road trip and book family destinations within the United States, Canada and Mexico. Shortly afterwards, assuming international restrictions are lifted, AAA expects to see demand for a wider range of travel abroad.
“The saying goes that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Americans are taking that first step toward their next journey from the comfort of their home by researching vacation opportunities and talking with travel agents,” Mr. Vazquez stated. “We are seeing that Americans are showing a preference and inspiration to explore all that our country has to offer as soon as it is safe to travel.”
To go with the low travel expectancy, the most recent weekly Arizona tourism data shows hotel occupancy in the Phoenix region at 30.7% for the week of May 3-9, which is down 57% year-over-year, but up nearly 1 percentage point over the week before. Phoenix has the 8th highest occupancy rate among the Top 25 U.S. markets, according to the Arizona Office of Tourism.
Also, Revenue Per Available Room, or RevPAR, in Phoenix was down 76% over the same week last year. The national rate is 74%.
“The data this week shows that the re-energization of Arizona’s tourism industry is happening in small, incremental steps, as it should,” Debbie Johnson, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism, stated Friday. “With hotel pools, fitness centers and spa services reopening this week, we expect these metrics to continue a slow but steady move in a positive direction.”
According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, residents are traveling away from home 47% less now than they did prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. However, recent week-over-week data measured May 12 shows car travel by Arizonans is up 9%, an increase of 4.7 percentage points over the week before.
For would-be travelers, AAA offers essential information and resources to guide exploring future domestic vacations:
Travel Agents: Knowledgeable agents can help people assess their options and serve as their advocate in case any changes to travel plans are needed.
Travel Insurance: Consider purchasing travel insurance to protect vacation investments. Coverage options can vary widely, so it’s important to review options with a travel adviser. Travel insurance generally excludes epidemics, but depending on the situation, there could be special travel insurance options.
Preventative Measures: No matter where you travel, take everyday preventive measures to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including washing hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using cleaning wipes or sprays.
AAA’s Best of Housekeeping badge: Look for a hotel that has earned the AAA Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping badge. While all AAA Diamond designated properties must pass a comprehensive inspection, hotels that display the Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping badge have achieved the highest possible scores for cleanliness, surpassing expectations, demonstrating housekeeping excellence for two consecutive inspections and are free of AAA member complaints. AAA is working with its industry partners to review its inspection process and standards to ensure they reflect the COVID-19 realities of today.
Prepare Your Car: This is especially important as AAA Arizona data shows battery service calls have increased 8% compared to last year. AAA offers free on-the-spot battery testing while observing physical distancing guidelines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that people stay home and avoid nonessential travel. They should also be wary of all official warnings and refer to the latest updates from the CDC and U.S. Department of State to help decrease the spread of COVID-19.
AAA’s annual Memorial Day travel forecast will return next year. Memorial Day 2009 currently holds the record for the lowest travel volume at nearly 31 million travelers. AAA expects to make travel projections for the late summer and fall, assuming states ease travel restrictions and businesses reopen.
While there may not be as many gatherings with family and friends this Memorial Day, people will likely continue to grill outdoors.
The National Fire Protection Association reminds everyone to follow basic safety precautions over Memorial Day weekend and beyond as people remain at home due to COVID-19.
“Whether you live in a state where stay-at-home policies remain in place or restrictions are beginning to ease, many people will continue to limit their exposure to the coronavirus, which means a lot more dining and entertaining at home,” stated Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “As the holiday weekend approaches and warmer weather arrives, more of us will be grilling outdoors, which translates to an increased risk of home grilling fires.”
According to the NFPA, cooking equipment is the leading cause of U.S. home fires overall, annually contributing to about 49% of all home fires. NFPA estimates show that between 2014 and 2018, an annual average of 10,600 home fires involving grills, hibachis, or barbecues, resulting in 10 civilian deaths, 160 civilian injuries, and $149 million in direct property damage. July is the peak month for grilling fires, followed by June, May, and August.
Gas grills were involved in an average of 8,900 home fires per year, including 3,900 structure fires and 4,900 outdoor fires annually, according to the NFPA. Leaks or breaks were primarily a problem with gas grills.
“It’s important to make sure your grill is in good working order and can be used safely, no matter what type of grill you use,” Ms. Carli stated. “For households that don’t grill during the winter months, now is the time to conduct a pre-grilling inspection and ensure that the grill is clean and functioning properly.”
The NFPA offers these tips and recommendations for enjoying a fire-safe grilling season: