Travel uptick expected this Thanksgiving, but hotel industry still hurting, reports say

Over 53 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, an increase of 13% from 2020, AAA predicts.

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Passengers try to catch flights out of O’Hare International Airport after an early winter snowstorm caused the delay and cancellation of hundreds of flights at the airport on November 26, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The storm, which dumped upwards to a foot of snow in Chicago and the surrounding area, also caused scores of traffic accidents and left thousands without power.

Millions more Americans are traveling this holiday season than last year, but the hotel industry says it’s still struggling


Millions more Americans are expected to be on the road and in the sky this Thanksgiving holiday, but the hotel industry says it’s still hurting.

AAA predicts travel will recover to within 5% of pre-pandemic levels this Thanksgiving, with millions of Americans and Illinoisans traveling by car and plane. But the American Hotel and Lodging Association says the industry is still suffering from pandemic-era disruptions.

“Despite a slight expected uptick in holiday travel this year, hotels will continue to face economic fallout from the pandemic,” said Chip Rogers, CEO of the AHLA.

Over 53 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, an increase of 13% from 2020, AAA predicts. And in Illinois, total travel figures will be within 7 % of pre-pandemic levels.

In the skies, domestic air travel “has almost completely recovered from its dramatic drop-off during the pandemic” and is up 80% from last year, AAA said.

U.S. Skies and Roads Busy Ahead Of Memorial Day Weekend

Domestic air travel will be up 80% from last Thanksgiving, according to AAA.

Scott Olson/Getty Images file

“It’s beginning to look more like a normal holiday travel season compared to what we saw last year,” Debbie Haas, AAA’s vice president for travel, said in a news release.

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

“Recovery is happening, it’s just taking a while for us to get there,” Rogers told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re not alarmed by these numbers, but we sure would like to see them improve quickly.”

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

The AHLA cited high gas prices as a possible reason for the continued hotel industry slowdown, but AAA’s report found that road travel is still expected to increase this year, with an 8% gain over 2020.

In this March 31, 2021,photo, traffic flows along Interstate 90 highway as a Metra suburban commuter train moves along an elevated track in Chicago. Congress has created a new requirement for automakers: find a high-tech way to keep drunken people from driving cars. It’s one of the mandates along with a burst of new spending aimed at improving auto safety amid escalating road fatalities in the $1 trillion infrastructure package that President Joe Biden is expected to sign soon.

Busy roads and airports mean travelers should plan ahead and expect delays, AAA says.

AP file

“Right now gas prices are probably the biggest indicator as to whether someone’s traveling, and gas prices are at a seven-year high right now, so that’s certainly not helping the case,” Rogers said.

The Biden administration’s recent announcement that vaccinated foreign tourists can enter the country spells good news for the hotel industry. And for travelers, it means airports are expected to be as busy as ever, AAA said.

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

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