Thanksgiving holiday travel outlook: AAA predicts big rebound on the roads and in the air

Millions of Americans are expected to be on the road and in the sky this Thanksgiving holiday, but the hotel industry says it still hurts.

AAA predicts travel will recover to within 5% of pre-pandemic levels this Thanksgiving, as millions of Americans and Illinois travel by car and plane. But the American Hotel and Inn Association says the industry is still reeling from the turmoil of the pandemic era.

“Despite an expected slight increase in holiday travel this year, hotels will continue to grapple with the economic fallout from the pandemic,” said Chip Rogers, CEO of AHLA.

More than 53 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, a 13% increase from 2020, AAA forecasts. And in Illinois, total travel numbers will be within 7% of pre-pandemic levels.

The AAA said domestic air travel in the skies has “almost fully recovered from the significant decline during the pandemic” and is up 80% from last year.

US skies and roads busy ahead of Memorial Day weekend

Domestic air travel will be 80% higher than last Thanksgiving, according to the AAA.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

“It’s starting to look like a normal holiday travel season compared to what we saw last year,” Debbie Haas, vice president of AAA Travel, said in a press release.

But despite the increased travel, only about 22% of Americans plan to stay in a hotel this Thanksgiving, and about the same amount at Christmas, an AHLA survey found, which is “certainly less” than the pre-pandemic years, Rogers said. .

“Recovery is happening, it just takes a while to get there,” Rogers told the Chicago Sun-Times. “These numbers haven’t bothered us, but we would definitely like to see them improve quickly.”

Rogers said the majority of hotel revenue comes from business travel, which continues to lag despite the resurgence of leisure travel.

The AHLA cited higher gas prices as a possible reason for the ongoing slowdown in the hotel industry, but the AAA report found that road travel is still expected to increase this year, with an 8% increase through 2020.

In this March 31, 2021 photo, traffic flows along Interstate 90 as a suburban Mitra commuter train moves along an elevated track in Chicago.  Congress has created a new requirement for automakers: to find a high-tech way to prevent drunks from driving.  It's one of the mandates along with an influx of new spending aimed at improving car safety amid mounting road deaths in the $1 trillion infrastructure package that President Joe Biden is expected to sign soon.

AAA says busy roads and airports mean travelers should plan ahead and anticipate delays.
AP . file

“Right now, gas prices are probably the biggest predictor of whether someone is traveling, and gas prices are at a seven-year high right now, so that certainly doesn’t help the situation,” Rogers said.

The Biden administration’s recent announcement that vaccinated foreign tourists can enter the country bodes well for the hotel industry. And for travelers, that means airports are expected to be as crowded as ever.

In general, the AAA advises travelers to be proactive and patient – book flights and accommodations ahead of time and plan for delays on roads and at airports.

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