AARP’s annual travel trends survey reflected the stark reality of COVID-19’s impact in upending 2020 travel plans and how it continues to disrupt travel itineraries for 2021. While for many travel is “just an idea,” it’s also one they hope that, with time and a vaccine, will soon be realized.
Emerging optimism for 2021 is apparent, the survey revealed, especially among boomers (people ages 56–74) who haven’t given up on their bucket lists and dreams of seeing the world. Just over half of boomers (54%) plan to travel in 2021, and they are actively selecting destinations, booking accommodations, and scrutinizing COVID-19 safety protocols, the survey found. Among those looking to travel, most said they are “hopeful” and “excited” at the prospect.
A small, but avid group of cruisers (13% of traveling boomers) plan to take to the seas and waterways, with 82% of those cruising voyages already booked.
COVID-19 Safety Takes Precedence
Public health concerns have surpassed cost as the biggest barrier to traveling. The survey found that 41% of boomers believe that travel during the pandemic is unsafe, and 47% who intend to travel will do so only if a vaccine is available. A strong majority (74%) also said that COVID-19 travel restrictions have prevented or will prevent them from taking all the trips they would like to take in 2021.
Still, travel-hungry boomers are arming themselves with knowledge. They are researching safety protocols, state quarantine regulations, what businesses and sites are open at their intended destination, and how accommodation and transportation providers are responding to safety concerns.
Beyond understanding the regulations, boomer travelers are taking precautions in every aspect of the planning process. Seven in ten know that travel in 2021 will differ from travel in past years. Instead of jetting off to crowded international hotspots, they are more likely to take domestic road trips and visit only with immediate family.
Nearly a quarter of boomers (23%) who are making travel plans for 2021 did not travel at all in 2020. Many are motivated to travel in 2021 by a desire to reconnect with loved ones: More than half (57%) said that they are planning a trip in 2021 to spend time with friends or family.
Fully refundable tickets/reservations is the most enticing incentive for would-be travelers. When asked what would ease travel concerns, a whopping 84% of boomer travelers chose “fully refundable tickets.” Notably, “mandatory mask wearing” would ease concerns for 79% of boomer travelers.
Nontravelers Highlight Safety Concerns
For the first time, AARP included nontravelers in its study to get a sense of when they might return to traveling. These boomers aren’t opposed to travel — 19% are already watching for travel bargains — but they are acutely attuned to the risks of the pandemic.
Among boomers who said that they are not planning to travel, 93% percent said fear of COVID-19 was the reason, and 84% said any future travel would be dependent on a vaccine. About half said they didn’t know when they will resume traveling.
These boomers said that they were not making plans for personal travel; however, many (40%) said they anticipate some obligatory travel in 2021 for business trips, caregiving, and other purposes.
Travel Savings Grow
Unlike younger generations, boomers may be stockpiling money earmarked for travel, keeping it handy for use at the right time. Younger generations were more likely to have spent unused 2020 travel funds on home improvements or restaurant food delivery and take out, but boomers (58%) were more likely to have set aside unused travel funds for future getaways. Even a majority (57%) of nontraveling boomers said that they would save money for a trip after the pandemic.
Boomers also anticipate outspending younger generations. They expect to spend $6,691 on average for 2021, while Gen X travelers expect to spend about $5,000 and millennials $4,000.
The 15-minute online survey was conducted November 9–21, 2020 among 1,499 adults age 23 and older, who have taken at least one trip 50 miles or more away from home, with at least a two-night stay, in the past two years. Respondents also had an intent to travel for personal pleasure in 2021. The first 500 respondents who, after being screened in the Travel Trends survey, reported no plans for personal (nonbusiness) travel in 2021 were sent to an alternate 10-minute survey, which provided the nontraveler survey data. Final data have been weighted to U.S. Census for analysis by generation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests postponing travel and staying home as the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. For more information, visit the CDC website.
For more information on coronavirus and travel, please visit Coronavirus and Travel: What You Should Know.
Levy, Vicki. 2021 Travel Trends, Washington, DC: February 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00430.001