The would-be summer travel season is near, but it’s likely this will be one unlike any other any of us can remember.
As we near Memorial Day Weekend—the holiday that traditionally kicks off the summer season and annual vacations in the U.S.—I wonder if 2020 will be the year without a summer for most of the hotel industry.
The actual year without a summer was in 1816. Following a series of volcanic eruptions, there was enough of a buildup of dust in the atmosphere to block out a significant amount of sunlight, which in turn lowered temperatures and increased rainfall worldwide and led to food shortages. The sunsets, however, were supposedly amazing thanks to the volcanic dust in the atmosphere.
The hotel industry reeled from the sudden drop in demand as governments across the world enacted travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders to at least slow the spread of COVID-19. In the cities, states and countries that have followed through carefully with this plan, the pace of infection does appear to have slowed, showing this strategy is working.
After a few months now, some people are … getting antsy, I think is a good way to put it. Even those who fully agree with the shelter-in-place orders want some break from feeling stuck at home. Those who are considered essential workers, a wide-reaching category that includes medical professionals, retailers and delivery workers, certainly would like a break as well.
It’s evident the demand to get out is there, at least internally, but the big question the industry is facing is whether that will translate to hotel bookings. It will, probably, but on a limited basis. It’s going to be a slow return.
A survey released earlier this month from the Pew Research Center shows 68% of Americans are worried their state governments will lift restrictions too soon. At the same time, a survey from the U.S. Travel Association and MMGY Travel Intelligence from the beginning of May reported that 68% of travelers feel safest when traveling by personal vehicle to outdoor destinations. Additionally, people between the ages of 18 to 34 are less concerned about contracting COVID-19 compared to an earlier survey, but they are more concerned about others in their household getting it.
The good news is people want to travel, and they have ways of doing it that lets them still feel safe, but it likely won’t be the same as it was before, at least for now.
Many of the destinations across the U.S. that would normally draw in demand are closed, either out of their own concerns about the pandemic or because the new safety regulations would not allow for enough business to be profitable. The traveling public will adapt, either by modifying their vacation plans—such as opting for those “drive-to” locations we keep hearing so much about—or by putting their vacations on hold, perhaps saving up for a bigger vacation next summer.
The other thing to keep in mind is the number of people who have filed for unemployment has reached more than 38 million over the last nine weeks, the New York Times reports. Last week saw an additional 2.4 million Americans apply for benefits.
With that many people unemployed, even with state benefits and the additional unemployment pay they’re seeing from new relief programs, a significant portion of them are not going to take a vacation this summer. Some will still travel, likely in the same way as before or at some reduced capacity, but I would imagine most would put their income toward their necessities to sustain them through the pandemic with the occasional splurge.
The summer is going to be tough, much the same as 2020 overall will be tough. Maybe 2020 won’t be the year without a summer travel season, but it’s not going to be like one we’ve seen before.
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