Despite the Pandemic, Travel to COVID-19 Hotspots Is on the Rise

Nevada and Florida are seeing an increase in searches and bookings

Las Vegas Entertainers Kick Off Pro-Mask Wearing Campaign With Fashion Show Amid Spike In COVID-19 Cases
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With lockdowns largely reduced across the country, travelers’ confidence is resuming, and they’re slowly getting back on the road. But the destinations they’re heading to might surprise you. While you might expect travelers to avoid coronavirus hotspots such as Nevada and Florida, which saw major spikes in case counts in July, the numbers show otherwise. 

“On Priceline, searches for Las Vegas hotels were five times higher in June than they were in May," said Peter Li, business analyst at Priceline. "During the same period, Orlando hotel searches doubled.” Li noted that these two destinations are the website’s top searched for hotels in July 2020. “The spike in Vegas hotel searches coincided with a late May announcement by Nevada's governor that casinos would open on June 4. The rise in Orlando hotel searches also corresponded to a late May announcement that Disney World would begin a phased reopening in July.”

The popularity of accommodations in coronavirus hotspots isn’t just limited to Priceline, either. According to vacation rental website Vrbo, three of its top 10 destinations in terms of bookings from June 1 through September 14 are in Florida. And an analysis of Trivago data by USA Today also reported high numbers of travelers to Florida this summer.

So why are travelers heading to coronavirus-ridden destinations?

Many Travelers Are Staying Close to Home

One reason is actually quite logical. A number of travelers—especially ones who live in states with high coronavirus infection rates—are simply traveling within their states’ borders, booking trips that allow them to avoid strict quarantine policies. Travelers to New York, for instance, are required to quarantine for 14 days if they’re arriving from certain states with high coronavirus infection rates—and that includes travelers returning home. Similarly, all travelers to Hawaii must also quarantine for 14 days. 

Take Florida-based travel writer Megan duBois, who traveled to Orlando to visit Walt Disney World this summer (and wrote about her experience for TripSavvy). “Since I live in north Florida, I did not feel uncomfortable traveling in-state, even though Orlando had a higher rate of infection than my own area,” she said.

According to Airbnb data, more than two-thirds of its bookings made on July 8—the first day the vacation rental platform saw one million bookings since March—were for locations within 500 miles of travelers’ homes, indicating that they’re likely traveling within driving distance. “Though travel looks different this year, families have still found ways to take vacations closer to home,” says Vrbo travel expert Alison Kwong. “Many families are opting to drive to their destinations and stay in vacation homes, and mountain, beach, and lake destinations have been incredibly popular.” 

Although rural destinations are still incredibly popular, local urban travel for staycations is on the rise, too. “Our data of reservations in July 2019 compared to this July shows a 25 percent increase in reservations in Atlanta, a 3 percent increase in reservations in Chicago, a 277 percent increase in reservations in Dallas, and an 88 percent increase in reservations in Miami and Miami Beach,” said Omer Rabin, Managing Director of the Americas, at short-term property management platform Guesty. “Originally avoided by many folks, these locales are now back on the map for the first time since March of this year, likely due to pent up demand for travel, people needing a change of scenery, and because many on the outskirts of cities or nearby want to safely enjoy reopened restaurants and sites.”

Others Are Taking Calculated Risks for Long-Distance Travel

These kinds of relatively local trips would result in an increase in bookings in coronavirus hotspots, even though travelers are sticking close to home. But not all travel to these destinations can be attributed to staycationers.

Travel site Kayak has reported continued growth in searches for flights to Floridian cities, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, and Fort Myers, over the past four weeks. And according to travel app TripIt, Florida is the top destination for Labor Day Weekend flights, representing 12 percent of its bookings for the weekend. And if people are flying, that often means they’re not local.

For out-of-state travelers heading to coronavirus hotspots, it all boils down to calculating risk. While the only fail-proof way to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus is to stay home in complete isolation, the majority of Americans are taking calculated risks on a daily basis, such as going to the grocery store or getting exercise outdoors. And for some, travel is a calculated risk they’re willing to take—with precautions.

“I'm in New York, and it was a hotspot for a while. I made it out of that okay, so as long as I'm careful, I'll take the risk,” said Kemi Adewumi, founder of travel site Go Galavant. “In my opinion, at this point it really doesn't matter where you go. It just matters what you do—or rather don't do—once you get there.”

Adewumi has booked a trip for her sister’s birthday to Phoenix, Arizona, which was a hotspot in mid-July, though infection rates have generally been decreasing since then. But it wasn’t her first choice destination. “Initially, I wanted to go to Houston, but I have friends there who were telling me about no masks, crowded bars, and pool parties. They're doing too much down there,” she said. “Phoenix sounded much calmer, or at least we'd be able to find a place and hang out by the pool with little interaction with strangers.”

For many travelers heading to coronavirus hotspots, including Adewumi, they’re not as worried about the local infection rates given that they’ll spend a significant amount of time away from any hazardous situations—namely crowds.

“I knew that South Carolina was a state having increased COVID reports, but we also knew that we were going to be on the grounds of the hotel most of the time,” said Jerry Lang, president of travel agency House of Travel, who drove from his home in Miami to the Palmetto State with his family for his birthday. “I also spoke to the hotel, and they were only using 45 percent of the available rooms, so we knew the hotel would never be too crowded. We used proper care on this trip, and I can say that all six of us returned COVID-free, so the protocols we used worked.”

Of course, the risks of traveling are not limited to the travelers’ health. If a traveler were to contract the virus but remain asymptomatic, they very well could unknowingly affect others around them. Therefore it’s crucial to be cautious not only while traveling, but also upon return home. “I would quarantine and get a test when I got back regardless of where I went,” says Adewumi—advice that all travelers, regardless of destination, should strongly keep in mind.

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