5 Ways Holiday Travel Is Changing in 2020

A report from TripIt shows shifts in Thanksgiving and Christmas travel trends

Aftermath Of Tropical Storm Eta In Cancun
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We know, we know—travel in 2020 looks nothing like it has in years past. That said, we’re always fascinated with data that shows exactly how it’s changing. So when travel-planning app TripIt released a report with intel about holiday travel this year, we were hooked. Here are the biggest takeaways we learned about how Thanksgiving and Christmas travel is changing in 2020:

The Saturday before Thanksgiving will be just as busy as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Many people travel to be with family and friends in a regular year—or anywhere other than home—on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Per TripIt, 23 percent of all Thanksgiving air travelers departed that day in 2019, with the Tuesday before Thanksgiving being the second busiest travel day, taking 19 percent of the share.

In 2020, those numbers have shifted. While the Wednesday before Thanksgiving still ranks as the most popular flight departure day, with 19 percent of travelers leaving that day, it’s actually tied with the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Only 17 percent of Thanksgiving travelers will leave on Tuesday this year.

That means people are taking longer-duration trips for Thanksgiving.

In 2019, TripIt’s data showed that two-thirds of Thanksgiving accommodation bookings ranged from one to three nights in length—which makes sense, given that Thanksgiving is a long-weekend holiday. But this year, that total has dropped 17 percent, whereas hotel and rental bookings in the four-to-seven-day range saw a 28 percent increase, and bookings in the week-plus range increased 86 percent.

Since many people have more flexible work-from-home policies, they’re likely extending their Thanksgiving trips to either spend more time with family and friends or take a longer vacation.

The popularity of travel destinations is largely based on testing and quarantine requirements.

Okay, this one might be a no-brainer: it’s pretty obvious that travelers would head to cities, states, or countries that are easy to enter. But what we found particularly interesting is how much that has impacted specific destinations.

New York City, for instance, was the number one Thanksgiving destination in 2019. But because New York State has some of the country’s strictest testing and quarantine requirements for travelers, few people are willing to make that trip: New York City dropped ten places to the 11th spot on TripIt's 2020 list of most popular Thanksgiving destinations.

Cancun, on the other hand, is heating up. Because Mexico has no restrictions on Americans flying into the country, hoards of travelers are heading south for the holidays. Cancun jumped from the 26th spot last year to the eighth spot this year—a massive 18-position jump.

Winter vacations are growing longer, too.

Just as with Thanksgiving trips, travels from Nov. 27 through Dec. 25 are being extended this year, likely because of flexible work-from-home policies.TripIt’s report showed a 15 percent year-over-year decrease for short-term stays of just one to three nights, a 21 percent increase of four- to seven-day stays, and a massive 100 percent increase in week-plus stays. Long live long December vacations!

People are heading into nature for winter trips, not major cities.

Again, this is a bit of a no-brainer: per TripIt’s data on vacation rentals, travelers are heading for the great outdoors for winter vacations rather than cities. Nature, of course, provides plenty of room for social distancing, whereas cities are congested and hotspots for COVID-19 transmission. 

As expected, New York City dropped from the most popular winter destination for vacation rentals in 2019 to the 11th this year. Strict testing and quarantine requirements aside, many of the classic Christmas festivities in the city, such as the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular at Radio City, have been canceled. There will be a tree at Rockefeller Center, though it’s anticipated that the public’s access will be limited. (In past years, it’s been estimated that 125 million people have gone to see the tree annually.)

But TripIt reports big jumps in popularity for classic outdoorsy winter destinations like Park City, Utah, which rose to the top spot this year from the 20th spot last year, and secondary cities in Hawaii, like Lahaina and Kihei, numbers two and three, respectively. Other destinations that saw big jumps this year include Estes Park, Colorado, which moved up a whopping 77 spots this year to number 20, and Davenport, Florida, which climbed up 49 positions to settle at number 15.

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