HUNTINGTON — Karen Thomas said that, for the past eight years, she has traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to celebrate Thanksgiving with family.
“My son and I are not going to go this year because of the coronavirus pandemic,” she said.
Thomas, of Huntington, was coming out of a Sheetz in downtown Huntington when asked about her holiday travel plans for Thanksgiving.
“We are just going to have something small at our home,” she said.
Thomas will not be the only one staying home.
“Like everything else this year, Thanksgiving in 2020 will look much different than in years past,” Bevi Powell, senior vice president with AAA Travel, said in an email. “Many Americans are weighing their options and considering the advice of health experts before finalizing their holiday travel plans.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans on Thursday not to travel for Thanksgiving, citing rises in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Jeff Miller, executive director of the West Virginia Parkways Authority, said the Thanksgiving holiday is normally one of the busiest travel times of the year on the West Virginia Turnpike.
“Last year, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we had approximately 160,000 vehicles pass through the tolls. And the Sunday after, we had approximately 168,000,” Miller said. “For the year, we are down around 10% overall in our cumulative average.”
But Miller said, looking at current trends, he expects Thanksgiving travel to be down around 2% to 3% from the previous year.
“It’s been hard to do a forecast or give any estimates of how much traffic there will be this year,” he said. “We have been keeping our eye on AAA Travel’s forecast. It is normally pretty close to what we project.”
Miller cautioned motorists traveling the Turnpike for the holiday to be aware of a widening project taking place in the north- and southbound lanes between mile markers 40 and 48 in Beckley.
“We have a lane shift from the outside lanes to the inside lane in an active construction zone with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour,” he said. “That may slow things down a little bit, but we are urging motorists to remember this is an active construction zone, so slow down and obey the speed limit.”
Although holiday travel will be down this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to AAA Travel’s forecast, 50 million Americans are still expected to travel this Thanksgiving.
“The effects of the pandemic, including health and economic concerns, are causing many Americans to opt for last-minute and vehicular travel,” Powell said.
Air travel and other modes of transportation, such as cruises, buses and trains, are the most affected by the pandemic, and 95% of holiday travel is expected to be by car, according to the forecast.
For those traveling by car, the average price of gasoline across West Virginia is five cents higher this week, at $2.156 per gallon, according to AAA East Central’s Gas Price Report.
A new national survey commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association shows that many Americans are not expected to travel this holiday season. Results show that 72% of Americans are unlikely to travel for Thanksgiving and 69% are unlikely to travel for Christmas, compounding the challenges for the hotel industry during this public health crisis.
Business travel has been even more affected. Only 8% of Americans say they have taken an overnight business trip since March, and just 19% of respondents who are currently employed — or 8% of all adults — expect to travel for business within the next six months.
“This holiday season will be an especially difficult time for all Americans, and our industry is no exception” Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said in an email. “Fewer people will be traveling and business travel remains nearly non-existent. For those who are considering traveling for the holidays, hotels will be ready to welcome you. Through our Safe Stay initiative, hotels have enhanced our already rigorous cleaning protocols to be more transparent and give travelers even more peace of mind.”
Travel spending in the United States is expected to finish the year 45% down from 2019 levels, and will still not have returned to its pre-pandemic strength by 2024, according to the latest figures released by the U.S. Travel Association.
The new 2020 projected travel spending figure of $617 billion is slightly worse than U.S. Travel’s previous forecast, released in July, of $622 billion, and is a steep drop from the $1.13 trillion spent on travel in the United States overall in 2019.