A lot of people won’t be doing this during the holidays because of COVID-19

With the Coronavirus pandemic still sweeping through the world, and the holidays fast approaching, the question of travel is now coming up. A recent survey by Travelocity revealed that being “home for the holidays” may not be in the cards for most Americans this year.

What the study revealed

Travel is one of the largest industries to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. According to the survey results, 60% of Americans say they won’t be heading home for the holidays this year. Of those 60%, one in three said they actually won’t be celebrating the holidays at all.

Prior to COVID-19, we saw about 50 million Americans traveling 50 miles or more from home for Thanksgiving each year. For 2020, surveys suggest that number will be cut in half. Although, it is hard to know for sure as the state of this pandemic is constantly evolving and changing.

Another report from Zeta Global showed that 58% of consumers are not planning to travel this holiday season, which is consistent with the Travelocity survey report.

“People are generally scared to fly and also have economic uncertainty, especially because unemployment benefits are running out,” Zeta CEO David Steinberg said.

When it comes to global travelers, data from research company ForwardKeys shows that, as of the beginning of August, winter holiday bookings were 65.4% behind where they were at the equivalent moment in 2019.

ForwardKeys CEO, Olivier Jager, said he is surprised the numbers aren’t looking worse, after reporting a 65.4% decrease in holiday bookings this year.

“Given the current crisis in which Covid-19 is rampant, a second wave is expected, airlines are going bust, and most people are afraid to travel in case they catch the disease or find themselves subject to quarantine or both, it’s amazing the number is not even worse,” he said.

Are people completely forgoing travel?

However, according to the Travelocity survey, just because people aren’t going home this holiday season, doesn’t mean they’re avoiding travel altogether. In fact, it appears that many are rescheduling their postponed family vacations for later this year. 45% of families with kids under 18 years old reported that they were scheduling leisure trips instead.

“It’s going to be a nontraditional holiday season this year, so families are gearing up to make the most of it by planning a holiday away from home and using their vacation days to travel,” Travelocity’s General Manager, Katie Junod said. “Our survey found that 80% of travelers who have taken a trip since the start of COVID-19 rated their experience as excellent or good, and that’s given them the confidence to plan that next vacation at a time when they need a break from at-home school and work.”

Junod also added that two-thirds of respondents did report that they’ve traveled to see friends and family since the start of COVID-19.

So, is it actually safe to travel home — or anywhere, really, — this holiday season? The experts seem to agree that it depends on a few different factors.

“Thanksgiving makes me nervous,” Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine said.

Noymer clarified that the larger concern when it comes to holiday travel is less about the travel and more about the large gatherings that take place when everyone is finally together.

“The actual three and a half hours you spend inside the [plane] is not what I worry about … but bringing people together in the [airport] gate area worries me—we’ve all seen people with their noses sticking out above their mask,” he told The Atlantic. “But even just driving 45 minutes to someone’s house and sitting around the table at Thanksgiving with people who you don’t normally mix with [is worrying too.]”

There are also other factors to consider, like the increased chance of viral spread during the winter months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement on their website regarding holiday travel, where they caution about the dangers of gathering indoors with people outside your regular quarantine bubble.

“Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering location, as well as where attendees are coming from, increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees,” they reported. “Family and friends should consider the number and rate of COVID-19 cases in their community and in the community where they plan to celebrate when considering whether to host or attend a holiday celebration. Information on the number of cases in an area can be found on the area’s health department website.”

What can you do?

However, many experts do recognize the importance of visiting family and friends this time of year, especially if you haven’t had a chance to during the quarantine. Epidemiologist Stephen Morse said that, while holiday travel does come with a lot of risks, there are ways to do it more safely.

“With caution, it can be done,” he said.

Some things to consider if you want to be extra cautious are: visiting during an off-peak time, keeping your gathering small, driving instead of flying, following social distancing guidelines, and getting tested if possible. You should also consider any travel restrictions that exist in both the state you live in and the state you’re visiting ahead of time. You may be required to quarantine for 14 days, so be aware of how much time you can take away from your regular responsibilities if this is the case.

You can also check out the CDC tips for hosting gatherings, to make sure you are gathering in a way that is as safe as possible.