Experts expect heightened holiday travel, but COVID, gas price concerns remain

·2 min read

Nov. 22—ANDERSON — Roads and airports should be noticeably busier this week, but travel industry experts are still wary that many Americans, concerned about rising gas prices, will choose to stay at home again this Thanksgiving.

"While vaccines have helped travelers feel more comfortable, rising gas prices and continued concerns about the pandemic are making many Americans hesitant to travel during the holidays," Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said in a news release this week.

An AHLA survey conducted over three days near the end of October found that 29% of Americans are likely to travel for Thanksgiving and 33% are likely to travel for Christmas — an increase from 21% and 24%, respectively, compared to 2020. But industry experts worry that, for those who do plan to travel over the holidays and expect to drive, rising gas prices may dampen those plans.

The holiday travel forecast from the American Automobile Association (AAA) strikes a more optimistic tone, predicting that about 53.4 million people will travel for Thanksgiving this year, up 13% from 2020. AAA expects as many as 6.4 million more travelers on the roads and at airports this year.

"Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday," said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel.

Locally, businesses dependent on travel and tourism are acknowledging concerns about higher prices at the pump, but overall expectations are for a busier holiday season than last year.

"We're anticipating people truly getting out to see family and do some things and get into some more of our events," said Mark Thacker, executive director of the Anderson Madison County Visitors Bureau. "There are concerns with gas prices, there are concerns with rising levels of COVID. But there are a lot of events coming up, shopping season is coming up, so we anticipate it to be positive numbers."

Thacker said as people look for flexibility in their lodging and try to stay close to family, local AirBnB's could see a significant uptick in activity.

"There is pent-up energy for travel," he said. "I imagine you're probably going to see people wanting to stay closer to home, closer to family, but you'll probably see more activation with AirBnB's as well with a small uptick in hotels."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.

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