Last year, for the first time in 20 years, AAA, the automobile owners group, declined to put out its annual Memorial Day travel forecast as the surging coronavirus pandemic kept many people close to home.
Its forecast this year: Travel is back. More than 37 million people are expected to venture 50 or more miles away from home between May 27 and May 31, AAA said. That’s a 60 percent increase from the 23 million who actually traveled last year, the lowest on record since AAA began counting in 2000.
“Americans are demonstrating a strong desire to travel this Memorial Day,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president, in a statement. “This pent-up demand will result in a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is a strong indicator for summer.”
The Transportation Security Administration essentially said the same thing at a news conference on Tuesday, when Darby LaJoye, the acting administrator of the T.S.A., warned of longer wait times at some security checkpoints at airports because of the increasing number of passengers. On Sunday, the T.S.A. screened more than 1.8 million people, the most since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020.
While the increasing numbers may be good news for the travel industry, which has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, for travelers they could make things complicated. AAA said that drivers in major cities should be prepared for road trips to be double or triple the length of a normal trip. So many ride-share drivers have stopped working that those relying on ride-sharing apps may face long wait times and prices that are multiples of their usual fares. Hotel rooms are booked up and many destinations are still struggling to hire staff, meaning that stays may be rocky.
Many Americans seem to have booked earlier this year, perhaps spurred by eagerness to get out of the house once they were fully vaccinated. A recent report by the travel technology company Amadeus found that, when the pandemic was at its height, most people were booking within a week of their expected travel, perhaps because it was so hard to make plans. But recently, same-day bookings have been falling, while those for stays 31 to 60 days out have increased. They now make up 11 percent of reservations, compared to 6 percent in the first week of 2021.
The result: a shortage of places to stay, especially in top destinations like the Outer Banks in North Carolina and Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
“We have 19,000 guest rooms, and we expect them to be full this weekend,” said Bill DeSousa-Mauk, a spokesman for the Cape Cod Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I think we’ll have a completely sold out summer on the Cape this year,” he said. Lodging choices may also be limited because many people who own second homes on the Cape and rented them out in past years have moved, at least somewhat permanently, to the area.
Lee Nettles, the executive director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, said that the area, known for its more than 100 miles of shoreline, is also experiencing a shortage of rental properties.
“Our lodging partners are telling us that they’re getting really close to being sold out” for Memorial Day weekend, Mr. Nettles said. Those looking to stay in the Outer Banks should, he recommends, “contact your lodging providers as quickly as possible.”
The travel industry still has a ways to go. There are nearly six million fewer people traveling this weekend than did so in 2019, according to AAA, and air travel has yet to reach prepandemic levels, largely because business travel has not resumed. Big cities with hotels devoted to conventions are still experiencing low occupancy rates.
But those who are traveling may feel the crunch because of diminished capacity. Hosts on Airbnb have dropped off the platform, and Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s chief executive, recently told CNBC that demand would “probably” outpace the number of available Airbnb listings as travel rebounds. He added that the company would need to add “millions more” hosts in the coming years to keep up.
Campers, too, should brace themselves for what experts said could be the busiest camping season ever, according to data analyzed by the e-commerce company Pattern. The company tracked consumer behavior in 2021 so far compared to the two previous years, and found that the demand for camping tents this spring is already up 97 percent compared to the same period in 2020 and 85 percent compared to 2019.
Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, said that overnight lodging at many of the system’s top destinations, such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, is nearly or fully booked through Labor Day. Campsite bookings through Recreation.gov, the government’s reservations system, are up 73 percent compared to this time in 2019, she said.
“One of our top tips is to make sure folks have reservations before they hop in a car for that weekend road trip,” Ms. Anzelmo-Sarles said. “We don’t want people to show up and have nowhere to stay.”
This increased demand is coming at a time when many parks, hotels and food service establishments continue to experience staffing shortages. Over the past 15 months, many hospitality workers have been laid off or have left the industry, and seasonal workers from overseas have been unable to get into the United States.
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