Holiday travel forecast shows return to pre-pandemic levels

Floridians are making up for lost time this holiday season after canceling family vacations and holiday visits last year because of COVID-19 precautions.

AAA is out with its 2021 year-end travel forecast, projecting nearly 110 million travelers during the holiday period, nearing pre-pandemic levels. The agency says it expects 27.7 million more drivers than in 2020 and just under 10 million fewer than 2019.

In an announcement released Tuesday, AAA said this year will bring holiday travel in line with 2017 volumes, following a dramatic decrease in travel in 2020. More than 100 million people will travel by car, an increase of 27.6 percent from the previous year.

When it comes to air travel, after falling nearly 70 percent last year, passenger volumes during the year-end holidays in 2021 will be nearly triple the 2020 total, with 6.4 million people flying.

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The agency said travel by other modes will also nearly triple, with 2.9 million using transportation including buses, trains and cruise ships.

As for Florida, figures also show a strong rebound in travelers compared to the 2020 year-end holiday period. More than 5.9 million are forecast to travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. AAA said although that's 4.5 percent fewer travelers than the record high set back in 2019, it’s still 35 percent more than last year.

AAA said auto travel remains the preferred mode of transportation for 91 percent of holiday travelers.

"With nearly 1.2 million more Floridians on the road compared to last year, AAA believes drivers in major metro areas could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times," the agency said Tuesday.

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AAA expects to respond to as many as 1.3 million calls for help.

"Vehicles that have been driven less during the pandemic should get an inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels to avoid an unnecessary breakdown," said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins. "It’s important to do this as early as possible in case there is an issue that needs to be fixed."

In case you're wondering how AAA is able to forecast domestic travel volumes, the agency works with analytics tracker IHS Markit to factor in a variety of economic variables. These include employment, output, household net worth, asset prices including stock indices, interest rates, housing market indicators, and variables related to travel and tourism, including prices of gasoline, airline travel and hotel stays.
Historical travel volume estimates come from a comprehensive study measuring the travel behavior of U.S. residents. More than 50,000 U.S. households are contacted monthly to obtain detailed travel data, resulting in the unique ability to estimate visitor volume and spending, identify trends, and forecast U.S. travel behavior.  

The 2021 year-end holiday period is defined as Thursday, Dec. 23 to Sunday, Jan. 2. This 11-day period is one day shorter than last year.