3 Travel Predictions for a COVID-19 Christmas

By David Steinberg, co-founder and CEO of Zeta Global

The travel and hospitality industries have had a rough 2020, and the holiday season will not be much different.

With American hunkering down at home in record numbers due to concerns about COVID-19, this holiday travel season will be unlike any other. That being said, millions of Americans will travel despite the pandemic-related risks. So, with that being said, here are three travel trends predictions for a COVID-19 Christmas, based on data provided by Zeta, a leading provider of data-driven consumer insights:

Prediction #1: Christmas air travel will be at least 49% lower than normal

Under normal circumstances, Christmas is the busiest time of year for air travel. Nationwide, airports see a 6% increase foot traffic between December 24 and January 1.

But 2020 is no normal year as consumer behavior is dictated by COVID-19 fears and regional regulations.

This year, available data suggests airports nationwide will see a year-over-year decline in foot traffic of no less than -66%. (Of course, the numbers will fluctuate from municipality to municipality, depending upon local COVID-19 infection rates and corresponding government travel restrictions.)

YoY Oct-Nov trend

Prediction #2: Large, coastal cities in the northeast and west will see the largest decline in airport traffic

In the large, coastal cities of the northeast and west (such as New York, Boston, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles), public health restrictions are being more strictly applied and followed than in other parts of the country. For that reason, seasonal airport foot traffic is down by as much as 86% compared to 2019.

Interestingly, large cities located in the south and southeast (such as Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, and Atlanta) are seeing less than a 50% decline year over year, thanks a combination of “snowbird” travel and less-extensive travel restrictions related to COVID-19.

Prediction #3: People will travel more in the southeast than anywhere else in the country

Southeastern states such as Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee will see the greatest uptick in per capita travel during the Christmas holiday.

Based on available consumer air travel data from Zeta, it’s likely the southeastern United States will see between 12.5% and 25% MORE air travel per capita during the Christmas holiday, compared to any other domestic region.

Why? Throughout COVID-19, this region has been the least restrictive with COVID-19 regulations, and an argument can be made that consumers there have less fear about traveling than other areas around the country.

Airport visitation index

Overall, consumer travel behavior this holiday season will fall in line similarly to all other travel activities throughout the pandemic – heavily decreased. Until COVID-19 is contained throughout the country (possibly with the arrival of a widely distributed vaccine), we unfortunately expect travel to remain abysmal.

Our hope is that the travel and hospitality are on their way back to normal by mid-2021.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.