Is it over yet? You know, the big summer vacation season?

It may be hard to tell since there never was much of a rush in the first place, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Airport terminals may not seem a lot less crowded than they were in the summer. And airplanes may not seem appreciably less full, if for no other reason than airlines will be reducing the number of flights now to offset the post-Labor Day drop in demand.

Yet, with most children around the nation now back to school – even if they’re attending virtually rather than in person – the seasonal decline in travel will be noticeable in the September passenger numbers airlines will begin reporting in a few weeks. Labor Day traditionally is the end of what normally is a crazy-busy summer travel season that typically sees planes going just about everywhere, and on every day – even Wednesdays – packed to the gills. But this year, thanks to Covid-19, the summer travel crunch never came close to reality.

In fact, U.S. airlines’ collective capacity this summer was down nearly 50{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} from summer 2019. Hotels and tourist attractions – or at least those that bothered to remain open at all this summer – also experienced historically weak demand. Most hotels reduced their available capacity (and their staff) by 40{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} to 50{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} to lower their own costs, and some closed down entirely. Meanwhile many attractions and tourist-oriented seasonal businesses never bother to open, and those that did typically delayed their openings and tightly limited how many patrons they would serve at any one time.

But just because the summer travel season that never really developed is over doesn’t mean we won’t now experience the kind of seasonal drop off in demand seen in most years. Sadly, we almost certainly will.

While hopes for Covid-19 vaccines – or even multiple types of vaccines – are rising, until any are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and both manufactured and distributed in large enough quantities to make a significant impact on consumer confidence, leisure and business travel can be expected to remain at unprecedented soft levels. Even after that, we can expect to see demand rebuild slowly.

Only 6{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of Americans say they expect to travel – by any means – this month, and just 9{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} say they plan to do so in October. That’s according to a recently released survey performed for IPX 1031, a financial advisory and exchange company that works with owners of vacation rental properties and other kinds of properties to maximize their returns and reduce their tax liabilities.

And, perhaps more sobering, most Americans have zero plans or expectations to travel on vacation all the way through the summer of 2021. That doesn’t mean they won’t do so, but at least right now, they have no such plans.

The IPX 1031 study, titled How Americans Plan To Vacation During Covid-19 further shows that as of this July only 10{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} are expecting to take a vacation in the “winter,” a period that extends into March and includes what normally would be the big vacation travel periods around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years’ holidays.

Expectations of taking a vacation rise only a little bit thereafter, according to the survey. Just 16{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of American expect to take vacations in the spring. Another 32{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of the more than 2,000 survey respondents said they’re not sure when, or even if they will travel on vacation.

How does that stack up against “normal” years?

Not very well.

The data are a bit fuzzy, and vary some based on the various survey and/or data tracking methodologies used by different research organizations. But according to the Gallup organization between 60{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} and 70{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of employed Americans travel away from home on vacation each year. In 2017, for example, 62{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of Americans did so, down from a peak of 70{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of employed Americans in 2001. (Remember, the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks took place just days after Labor Day and the end of the big summer vacation season, so most people that year already had done at least some vacation traveling before travel demand fell off a virtual cliff after the attacks.)

Back to this year, the IPX 1031 survey shows that only 27{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of American have taken any type of vacation away from home so far, and just 20{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} have any plans to do so over the next 12 months. Again, that doesn’t mean that more American’s won’t subsequently decide to travel on vacation at some point in the next 12 months, just that for now more than 70{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of Americans are refraining from making any vacation travel plans.

The survey also shows that 40{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of Americans cancelled vacation plans this year, nearly all as a result of the pandemic. Another 23{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} didn’t cancel their vacation plans but did postpone them. It’s not clear how many subsequently have taken vacations already. But the survey did show that 37{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of Americans continue to have some vacation plans on hold (either booked or not-yet-booked). That indicates that they likely are looking for an opportunity take those vacations in the months ahead or perhaps are waiting for some signal that it would be safe to do so.

Along those lines, 64{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of survey respondents said they don’t feel safe flying on a commercial airplane because of Covid-19. But 33{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} said they would feel safe to do so once there’s a vaccine widely available. However, 27{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} said they’re not sure yet when they will feel safe enough to fly, or what it will take to make them feel safe.

Of those who did travel after the pandemic began (through July), 40{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} stayed in hotels, 18{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} stayed with family, 16{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} stayed in vacation rental properties, 9{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} stayed in their own vacation homes, 7{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} stayed in motels, 5{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} stayed with friends and $5 camped out. Fifty-two percent of vacationers during the pandemic period said they drove on their trips, while 31{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} said they flew and 17{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} took some other form of public transit like trains or buses.

Of those who drove, 72{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} said they chose to do so instead of flying because of their concerns about being infected with Covid-19.

That particular survey data point is of note in light of multiple scientific-based tests and analyses showing that chances of an air passenger getting Covid-19 aboard a plan are extremely low, assuming they wear masks and maintain as much social distance from other as possible. That’s primarily because of the air filtration systems used on most modern commercial airliners, the additional cleaning protocols implemented by airlines and, in some cases, limitations on the number of passengers allowed on some carriers’ planes. But consumers’ fear of being infected while flying points to the industry’s inability as yet to create strong public education messages concerning the low level of risk associated with air travel during the pandemic.

The IPX 1031 Survey also showed that 70{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of those who have vacationed since the pandemic began changed their intended destinations in response to Covid-19. And 81{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} avoided large cities when they traveled for that reason. Also, 76{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} reported that monitored Covid-19 cases in the area of their destination in the days or weeks before their trips.

Concerns about Covid-19 – and, in all likelihood, the reduced number of tourist attractions, restaurants and other services available to them at their destinations – also caused those Americans who have vacationed since the pandemic began to spend less. In fact, 83{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of survey respondents said they spent less on their vacations during the pandemic than they would have under normal conditions.

And concerns that new developments related to Covid-19 might force them to cancel their trips at the last minute caused a whopping 58{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} of the respondents to purchase travel insurance that would have refunded most of the money they would have been obligated to pay if they had canceled their trips without such insurance.

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