How the Coronavirus Pandemic Impacted Summer Travel in 2020

By: Estelle Danilo, Flurry Analyst

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, borders closed around the world and Americans spent months under lockdown. As Summer approached, stay-at-home orders were lifted and many hotels reopened. However, travel destinations and activities remained limited. Travel abroad was restricted, summer camps were canceled, indoor dining at restaurants was shut down, and entertainment activities such as going to museums, movie theaters, and theme parks were not permitted. As a result, COVID-19 crushed many travelers’ Summer plans. What remained possible was visiting outdoor recreation sites including camping and hiking in both national and state parks. In this report, we look at how American summer vacation behavior dramatically shifted between 2019 and 2020 due to Coronavirus.

Flurry Analytics, owned by Verizon Media, is used in over 1 million mobile applications, providing aggregated insights across more than 2 billion mobile devices per month. For this analysis, Flurry measured the number of outdoor recreation visits using sessions across mobile apps that help users plan hiking and camping trips. These apps enable users to reserve camping sites, and find nearby hiking or camping locations through maps and photos of national parks. 

Additionally, Flurry estimated vacation trips using sessions across hotel reservation apps. When travelers go on a trip that lasts more than a day, they need to book a place to stay. As a result, we think that hotel reservations are a robust proxy for vacation trips. We do not account for family trips during which travelers do not need to book a hotel. 

Let’s first examine the changes in Summer vacation trips using hotel reservations as a signal.

 

Fig. 1: Change in Hospitality Mobile App Usage in the U.S.

In the chart above, we show the monthly change in total app sessions within hospitality apps compared to a January baseline. We compare this year’s usage in blue to last year in grey in order to identify unusual shifts in 2020. Until March of this year, hospitality industry app usage tracked about as expected, following last year’s trend. However, starting in April, after state officials issued COVID-19 stay-at-home directives, many hotels closed which resulted in a 75 percentage points plunge in year-over-year app hotel reservations. Compared to the January baseline, bookings were down by 54% when it should have been up by more than 20%. 

During the Summer holiday months—from June to August—when many hotels reopened and reservations would have usually peaked—the app usage indicators of industry health remained in severe decline, on average 61 percentage points lower than last year. Although most hotels had reopened, they were among the most crowded forms of holiday lodging, which increased the risk of exposure to the virus. Additionally, social distancing measures altered the hotel experience. For example, shared amenities such as spas and swimming pools were often closed. We think this likely deterred customers from booking traditional forms of hotels. 

By contrast, U.S. online spending for Airbnb, a hotel-alternative—less crowded and affected by COVID-19 measures—jumped by 33 percentage points this Summer relative to last year according to EdisonTrends data. Even though Airbnb reservations rose, accounting for 20% of U.S. market share, hotels still represent 70% of the U.S. lodging market according to Second Measure data. The 61 percentage points drop in hotel Summer reservations therefore indicates that vacation trips this year substantially declined. 

Next, let’s see how outdoor recreation visits have changed over the Summer.

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Fig. 2: Outdoor App Usage Recreation Trends in the U.S.

In the chart above, we show the monthly change in U.S. sessions on outdoor recreation mobile apps over the January baseline. Until March, this year’s usage of outdoor recreation apps was typical, following the trend from last year. However, in April, following stay-at-home orders, outdoor recreation trips tumbled by 54 percentage points year-over-year. This drop occurred right when hiking and camping activity typically begins to rise in the year. During the Summer holiday months—from June to August—when hiking and camping peaks, outdoor recreation apps hit remarkable record high usage, surpassing 2019’s increase in activities by 41 percentage points. 

National parks became one of this Summer’s destinations of choice for many Americans, likely because they can be reached within a day’s drive and planned without much lead time. In addition, various health experts shared ahead of the Summer that the transmission rates of the virus are believed to be lower outdoors than indoors, making national parks an ideal vacation spot during the pandemic.

As evidenced by our analysis of travel apps and outdoor recreation apps, COVID-19 radically changed travel and vacationing trends in 2020. App-based hotel reservations dropped to an unprecedented low during a typically busy Summer season. At the same time, the pandemic brought a significantly larger audience of Summer travelers to U.S. national parks this year. 

With the recent wildfires prompting the closure of many U.S. national parks, we’ll keep you updated on future important trends in travel and mobility. For the latest reports, subscribe to the Flurry Analytics blog and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to get the latest industry analyses.