(The Center Square) – Unlike last Christmas when many Americans were living in states still under lockdowns, an estimated 109 million people will be traveling out of town for Christmas and New Year’s this year, AAA reports, a 34% increase from last year.
“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new omicron variant,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a statement. “With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”
Those traveling are expected to go distances of 50 miles or more as they hit the road, board airplanes or book other transportation methods between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.
The additional 27.7 million people traveling this year brings holiday travel to 92% of 2019 levels, AAA notes, with airlines seeing a 184% increase from last year.
Road trips remain the top mode of travel, AAA reports, with more than 100 million people planning to drive to their destinations despite gas costing $1.25 per gallon more than a year ago. More than 6 million people are expected to travel by air; 3 million people are booking buses, trains and cruises, AAA reports.
Americans are primarily traveling to warmer climates this holiday season, primarily to where theme parks and resort type destinations are located.
The greatest number of bookings is for travel to Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California – home to Disney World and Disneyland, respectively.
The difference is that for those heading to Florida, they’ll experience little to no restrictions compared to those traveling to California. There are no interstate travel restrictions in Florida, compared to mask and other restrictions in place in California, the AAA map notes.
Florida, which has no coronavirus restrictions in place, dominates the tourism industry in the U.S. Earlier this year, six months before Christmas and holiday travel, VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism agency, reported that 31.7 million people traveled to Florida from April through June 2021, with the majority traveling from other states.
“Florida continues to serve as an example for the country that when you reject lockdowns and unnecessary mandates, your economy will thrive,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “Not only did Florida have more visitors in the second quarter than we did in 2020, but the data shows that domestic visitation has already fully recovered to 2019 levels.”
DeSantis also credited the dedication of thousands of Florida business owners, “who demonstrated the highest commitment to their employees and their customers,” and the marketing efforts of VISIT FLORIDA.
California, a state that reported a population decline for the first time in its history in 2020, never lifted its state of emergency, and just reinstated a statewide indoor mask mandate that’s expected to last until at least Jan. 15.
Last year, California recommended a 14-day quarantine for people traveling from out of state. Hotels weren’t allowed to accept reservations for out-of-state travelers for non-essential travel unless they booked a reservation for the minimum 14-day quarantine period. Disneyland closed in March 2020 and didn’t reopen until April of this year.
However, Florida was the first state to fully reopen with Disney World opening by the end of 2020. Initially, guests were required to wear face coverings, undergo temperature screenings, and make a reservation before visiting any of the parks. This year, reservations are still required throughout the holiday season and into 2022.
To help travelers understand COVID-19-related closures, recommendations and requirements when traveling in the U.S., AAA published a COVID-19 Travel Restrictions Map.
It also notes that in addition to Orlando and Anaheim, other top U.S. destinations include Las Vegas, New York City, Maui, Honolulu, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Phoenix and San Diego.