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Road trips rule as the US makes its 2020 summer vacation plans: AAA


Vacations will be shorter, more spontaneous

Discretionary driving boost a positive for demand

Coronavirus contagion plays a role in deciding destinations

New York — Driving will be the preferred method of transportation for most vacationing Americans in 2020, making up 97% of all summer travel according to travel club AAA. - a development that will help drive gasoline demand.

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But there will be some important differences this year, as the country struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic which has virtually shut down large swaths of the country since mid-March.

"The spur-of-the-moment long weekend trip is proving more popular than extended vacations, with the vast majority, 683 million, traveling by car," Robert Sinclair, manager of AAA Northeast media relations, said in a statement.

This is supported by AAA data which shows a gradual increase in hotel and car rental reservations since April, with those making plans for two to seven days before departure "significantly higher than normal."

Increased driving will help bolster US gasoline demand. Halved in April by the coronavirus, gasoline demand is picking up, reaching 8.6 million b/d for the week ended June 19, according to the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration.

S&P Global Platts Analytics has noted that the gap between 2019 and 2020 gasoline demand has narrowed to 1.25 million b/d at the end of June from the 4.55 million b/d seen in early April, due primarily to the increase in discretionary driving.

Platts Analytics notes that Apple's Mobility data offers "additional evidence" of the relatively better improvement in discretionary compared with work-related driving as weekend-related driving has rebounded more quickly than weekday-driving.

While this year's expected 683 million road trips is 3.3% lower than 2019's 706 million road trips, it is likely to have a greater impact on gasoline demand than in the past.

Changing destinations

The coronavirus has not only changed the duration of summer vacations but also destinations.

Orlando, Florida, has slipped from first place on traveler's itineraries to eighth as the state struggles with rising cases of the coronavirus following the reopening of many tourist services in May, AAA data shows. It was replaced by Denver, Colorado, in the top spot, followed by Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Phoenix.

Overall, 2020 summer travel will decline by 14.9%, due in part to the 74% drop in air travel vacation plans. Cruises and other forms of transportation are also taking a hit, down 86% from 2019.

Real GDP is expected to be 10.6% below the third quarter of 2019, while consumer spending is expected to drop 12% compared with last year, according to joint 2020 Summer Travel Forecast released by AAA and IHS Markit.

Cheap gasoline prices also make road trips more attractive. AAA anticipates gasoline will be the cheapest since 2016, averaging $2.25/gal, compared with the $2.66/gal average in the summer of 2019.

Planning is more important than ever

AAA also offers advice for travelers on the road to protect themselves from the coronavirus, urging travelers to plan ahead, keep a close eye on the news for local updates on coronavirus cases, and to pack plenty of face masks and hand sanitizer.

A joint report by AAA and INRIX, provider of mobility information, analyzed traffic patterns across the US so travelers will know where they will possibly run into traffic congestion as they chose their destination.

INRIX analyzed the Vehicle Miles Traveled data provided by the US Federal Highway Administration and divided states into three categories, which compares 2020 expectations to actual 2019 data for each state.

The lower third is comprised of states which previously had a high number of coronavirus cases or have seen a resurgence in them. This includes New York and many northeastern states as well as Texas, Florida and Washington.

Visitors to these destinations are "probably not going to run into 'normal' traffic congestion while travelling as many travelers will avoid them.

However, INRIX puts states like Colorado, Minnesota and Ohio in the middle tier, putting the likelihood of running into 'normal' traffic patterns below 50%.

But travelers to INRIX's upper tier group are more likely than not to run into 'normal' traffic congestion patterns during their visits. States in the upper tier include South Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho.