Tourists’ bigger commitment to road trips may help Route 66 in a COVID-19 world

Because the coronavirus has made air travel less attractive, U.S. tourists may turn more to road trips for their vacations in the coming months.

The Pontiac Daily Leader, citing tourism officials in Illinois, said travelers are looking more toward driving destinations for vacations instead of far-flung spots by plane.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of people traveling regionally, so being able to drive places and not having to go through the process of flying and everything that might come with that additionally,” said Nick Thomas, director of the School of Hospitality Leadership at DePaul University. “So being able to go places in close proximity, two-, four-, six-hour range, which for places like Chicago, that’s great, because we have so many people that live in the kind of that driving time zone.”
A survey recently commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association found 68% feel safest when traveling in their car. About 45% said they are more likely to travel by car after COVID-19 has passed. Nearly one-third said they would be willing to drive up to 300 miles to reach their vacation destination.

The article cites one prominent attraction in Springfield, Illinois, that’s rethinking things in the COVID-19 era:

[…] The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum has used the time it’s been closed “to really clean and disinfect every inch of the place” while considering what the institution, which sees about a quarter-million visitors per year, looks like upon reopening.
“We’re doing a lot of thinking about how our daily operations will look when we come back,” said ALPLM spokesman Chris Wills. “So for instance, we’ve got two shows that people can see: Ghosts in the Library and Lincoln’s Eyes. They’re both in theaters. So what will the seating in there be like? How far apart will we have visitors sitting? Will we reduce the number of shows so we can do cleaning in between presentations?”
There and everywhere, making people feel safe will be of major importance.
“I think the consumer, as well as the service provider, is probably more aware now of health and safety than they’ve probably ever been, and that will continue,” Thomas said. “I don’t think that the moment that we’re kind of opened back up and we’re back up and running that this idea is going to take a backseat.”

Thomas’ observations match up with what was heard last week during a New Mexico Department of Tourism webinar titled “Reopening the Tourism Economy.”

The tourism department cited a recent survey where more than 80% of travelers are planning a vacation by car in the coming months. More than half of these travelers said they’d avoid crowds, would practice social distancing and carry their own personal protective equipment to lower their risk of being infected by the virus.

New Mexico’s tourism secretary said she thinks the state is well-positioned for recovery because the state offers wide-open spaces and outdoor activities for COVID-aware tourists. Considering that factor, it’s not a stretch to think domestic Route 66 travelers would bed down in small towns instead of congested large cities during their journeys.

The department and New Mexico Hospitality Association also are working on a New Mexico Safe Certification program for hotels and motels next month that seeks to reassure travelers they would be lower-risk for infection.

Some may look aghast at such measures during a coronavirus pandemic that will kill more than 100,000 people in the U.S. by sometime this week. But it’s arguably more short-sighted to deny the problem exists. The tourism industry must be adaptable to changing trends to keep its related businesses alive.

That’s not to say the virus won’t have an effect. A not-insubstantial number of people will refuse to travel until the pandemic plays itself out or a COVID-19 vaccine is developed.

And the ongoing travel ban to the U.S. from Europe, Canada, United Kingdom and Ireland will continue to hurt Route 66 businesses. A few of those businesses report up to half of their revenue comes from international travelers. Until that foreign travel is restored, Route 66’s comeback from the virus won’t be complete.

(Image of Route 66 in Southern California by faungg’s photos via Flickr)

2 thoughts on “Tourists’ bigger commitment to road trips may help Route 66 in a COVID-19 world

  1. It’s difficult to understand how the New Mexico tourism secretary thinks small towns are well-positioned for a great recovery when the lodging occupancy continues to be restricted to 25%.

  2. That’s going to us later this summer. Since all of other big car show plans got cancelled we’ll be hitting the Mother road and bring a couple of friends that have never been on it before. I’m excited to do this again since it’s been 5 years since we last did a Route 66 trip.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.