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This year’s top Labor Day destinations might surprise you

September 1, 2020, 11:30 AM UTC

With the recent lifting of the U.S. State Department’s “Do Not Travel” advisory, grounded travelers are itching to get out on the open road or in the friendly skies. But would-be travelers have a lot to consider before leaving home. 

TripIt recently published new data revealing this year’s top locations for Labor Day weekend travel. Big metros like New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta still rank in the top 25 destinations, but each of these cities has dropped in popularity. While Las Vegas and Denver still represent top picks, the data shows that more travelers are vacationing in Orlando and Phoenix compared to last year, despite major outbreaks of COVID-19 this summer in Florida and Arizona.

“Travel has changed a lot in the past few months. Many Americans still want to take advantage of summer vacations but have had to plan their trips around new factors beyond price and timing,” says Kelly Soderlund, TripIt’s travel trends expert. “As Labor Day weekend approaches, we’ve seen travelers who are open to flying opt for different locations than they did last year. This year’s data reveals a flavor for beachy locations, with Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Hawaii representing the biggest increases in rank year over year.”

Twelve percent of all Labor Day flight reservations include a trip to the Sunshine State, with Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale landing in the top 25 travel destinations. Fort Myers jumped 59 spots, up from No. 88 in 2019 to No. 29 this year.

Usually one of the busiest airports in the tristate area, Newark dropped 43 spots, from No. 17 in 2019 to No. 60 this year.
Courtesy of TripIt

TripIt also analyzed hotel bookings within the same booking parameters and found five out of the top 10 hotel travel destinations landed in Florida, with four of them—Orlando, Lake Buena Vista, Bay Lake, and Kissimmee—located in the Disney World vicinity.

Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean are also seeing big year-over-year increases for travel this coming holiday weekend. Cancun shows one of the largest increases in popularity, up 28 spots, from No. 37 to ninth place.

On the flip side, aside from the aforementioned destinations, most international travel is out the question for Americans while border restrictions stay in place. Among the cities that saw the largest drops for bookings were Tokyo and Frankfurt, a major travel hub for connecting to dozens upon dozens of destinations throughout Europe.

As to be expected, destinations where travel for Americans has been restricted or which have been hit hard by the pandemic have seen some of the largest drops in bookings.
Courtesy of TripIt

While many travel companies work to stay afloat and promote traveling right now, Trafalgar, a guided vacation company, is sticking with its stance on what it truly means to be a responsible traveler—and that is putting the breaks on all trips through at least the end of the year.

“It’s clear people are becoming frustrated with the recommended guidelines and restrictions, but just because people are ‘over it’ does not mean we can dismiss our civic responsibility to humanity to social distance and give the world a chance to heal,” says Trafalgar president Melissa DaSilva. “We, as a global tribe of travelers, need to understand the implications of our personal decisions right now—whether that’s attending a large gathering in a neighbor’s backyard or hopping on a Labor Day flight.”

How we act right now, she continues, will impact how—and when—we’re able to travel safely and freely again. The longer this fractured mentality drags on, the harder it will be for the travel industry—which employs roughly one in 10 people—to spring back. DaSilva says we need to think and work collectively to avoid contributing to new waves and spikes—and that, for the time being, means staying close to home and following all physical distancing guidelines.

“Our global priority right now is stopping the spread of the virus, and that especially means avoiding hotspot states, mask or no mask. The correlation is clear: When we don’t adhere to social distancing guidelines, the numbers go up,” DaSilva says. “We’ve certainly made progress in controlling the virus in certain parts of the globe, but we’re not out of the woods yet. While restrictions have eased in some parts of the country, the situation—particularly as we head into cooler fall weather and back to school—is proving to be fluid.”

Many people have been hesitant to travel, at least at the start of the pandemic. In April, survey software provider Qualtrics conducted a study that found 75% of Americans didn’t feel comfortable flying on an airplane at the time. But some Americans have since warmed to the idea. Qualtrics asked the same question in July and found that number had dropped to 62%. Within that time frame, airlines, hotels, and home-sharing providers started rolling out new policies to protect travelers’ health. Travel companies also began developing new regulations and programs designed to allow people to travel safely with coronavirus risks in mind.

That same study asked travelers what they needed to feel comfortable boarding an airplane, and the top three responses were mandatory masks, seating spaced six feet apart, and pre-boarding temperature checks. Some airports, airlines, and hotels have started to make these practices part of their standard protocol, which could explain the rise in trust.

“TripIt’s Labor Day travel data shows that some people are willing to travel, but their comfort varies. Some people are comfortable with flying while others are sticking to road trips to get from point A to B,” Soderlund says. “The holiday season is typically synonymous with the busiest travel season. While total volume may look different, we predict travelers will continue to make plans based on their individual safety standards and comfort level.”

Trafalgar’s DaSilva suggests thinking about that bucket list vacation now so it can become a reality in 2021, and to invest travel dollars in the companies that support local communities that rely so heavily on tourism.

“While staying grounded is unusual for us and the desire to explore is intrinsically ingrained in all of us, the best science suggests that we remain vigilant and use this time to plan for our future trips,” DaSilva says. “When we do begin traveling again, it will be imperative that we choose to rebuild the cultures and structures that have been so decimated in this time without tourism, so do your research and choose wisely.”