Holiday forecast and winter travel trends 2021

Published October 2021


Last year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) asked all Americans to refrain from holiday travel—and holiday trips declined as a result—but this year the guidance is that safe travel is possible with the proper precautions. So, the question is: will people continue to spend the holidays at home, or return to (or continue with) their holiday travel traditions?

We teamed up with Allison + Partners Research to poll 1,000 Americans over the age of 18—not only to gauge holiday trends, but also to see what’s in store for the winter travel landscape.

We’ve packaged up the survey* results (with a bow, naturally) to bring you tidings of what new and returning winter travel trends to expect for the season ahead. With 58% of people planning to continue regular holiday travel traditions this year and/or return to a tradition interrupted by COVID-19, the outlook is merry for many.

What’s new for 2021 winter travel

  • While consumer confidence in travel is reportedly on the rise, there’s still some uncertainty this season: nearly half of respondents (47%) indicate that they will be traveling for the holidays, with 20% still unsure about their plans.
  • Of those not planning to travel this holiday and/or winter season, nearly 1 in 5 say they had plans to travel that were canceled due to COVID-19 or other reasons (18%).
  • However, people seem more determined to travel this year: 49% say they would change travel plans if there was a COVID-19 spike where they are traveling to, which is down from nearly three-quarters of people who said they would change plans in 2020.
  • A quarter of consumers who either are already vaccinated or plan to be before traveling next say that being unable to see family and friends last holiday season is among their top two motivators for traveling (25%).
  • Another change-up? Last year, almost 40% of U.S. consumers reported having to adjust their holiday traditions due to COVID-19, compared to 19% this year.
  • And lastly, most Americans who are traveling for the holidays indicate that they will be traveling throughout the winter season as well (82%).

2020 winter travel trends that keep on giving

  • Next-gen travel continues to trend: Gen Zers and Millennials are the most likely to travel for the holiday season (66% and 61%, respectively).
  • And, not surprisingly, family travel keeps trending, too: roughly 65% of parents with children under age 5 plan to travel, compared to 42% of non-parents.
  • People will venture a similar distance as last year, with 46% saying they’ll travel 4–6 hours to get to their vacation destination this season—compared to 43% last year.
  • They’ll also be sticking to the road again: 72% said they’ll be road tripping, down just slightly from the more than three-quarters who were going by car last holiday season.
  • The reasoning? 40% say it’s simply because they’re traveling to a place close by, whereas 38% cite COVID-19 safety concerns.
  • Furthermore, the holidays will be no exception when it comes to remote and hybrid work models changing how people travel: a quarter of those traveling for the holidays say they plan to work remotely during their trips (24%).
  • For the holiday and winter season as a whole, hometown travel is the priority (37%), but vacations to warmer-weather and mountain-snow destinations are close behind (33% and 23%, respectively).

...And a happy new year?

  • The number of Americans who plan to take a trip in 2022 jumps to 63%, with 82% of those travelers planning to travel more often in the coming year than in 2021. Meanwhile, 24% of respondents remain unsure about traveling in 2022.
  • The #1 travel plan for next year? A vacation getaway, according to 65% of respondents, followed by 51% of people who plan to visit family or friends.

*Methodology: Allison+Partners Research + Insights surveyed 1,000 US consumers age 18 or older. The survey was fielded using the Qualtrics Insight Platform, and the panel was sourced from Lucid. Fielding was executed in October 2021.

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