Road Trip Tourism’s 2020 Renaissance May Continue To 2021

By Bruce Harpham Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The humble road trip is coming back in a big way in 2020. The pandemic directly influences this tourism trend. Many countries around the world have imposed travel restrictions. Since the US has millions of COVID-19 cases, other countries are actively discouraging American tourism. The solution: rediscover the power of the road trip.

What Trends Are Reinvigorating the Road Trip?

The COVID-19 pandemic has rescued the road trip from obscurity. It’s a return to the travel trend that was highly popular for much of the 20th century. The classic road trip first became popular in the United States as the interstate highway system was developed in the 1950s. Whether it is a short weekend trip or a visit to family, a road trip is highly flexible for travel. Unlike planes, road trips involve minimal contact with other people. If a gas station is too crowded, drivers can take their business elsewhere.

Economically, road trip tourism is also supported by a drop in gas prices. In 2019, the average price per gallon for gasoline in the U.S. was $2.6. In 2020, prices have fallen to $2.16, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s Short Term Energy Outlook. The forecasted gas price for 2021 is $2.28 as per the Energy Information Administration. As a result, the surge in road trip tourism driven by affordability will continue into 2021.

The pandemic makes air travel and international travel unavailable or unappealing for many people. On the other hand, people have been spending more time in isolation at home in 2020 than ever before. While parties, concerts, and family gatherings were canceled or restricted this year, getting in the car to go somewhere remains an excellent option.

These Industries Gain From the Roadtrip Renaissance

What happens when affluent people do not feel safe traveling to Europe, Asia, and other international destinations? They are going to look for options close to home. For example, Niagara Falls has gained in popularity considerably. Domestic restaurants and hotels worldwide lost several months’ worth of business earlier in 2020, so they will be keen to regain customers.

Companies that provide vehicles — dealerships and rental companies — are likely to do well. This trend may also partially offset the long-term decline in car ownership and usage by Millennials. Furthermore, increasing car usage also means secondary spending for mechanics, gas stations, and auto supply companies.

Aside from getting equipped with transport, people need somewhere to go that is enjoyable and isolated. That means traditional tourist destinations like New York City are unappealing. The answer: spending more time in nature.

Camping Spending Surges as a Pandemic Safe Travel Option

Road trip tourism also lends itself to nature-oriented tourism activities since these activities lend themselves to social distancing. Take camping as one example. The 2020 North American Camping Report found increased sales volume for a variety of camping products:

  • Camping Basics. Recreation tents (+ up 30%), hammocks (+ up 103%), camp sets (up +119%),
  • Camping Accessories Grow In Sales. Also, seeing growth were accessories such as portable power kits (+87%), bike trailers/joggers (+133%), and hanging hitch racks (+51%).

If you’re interested in staying off the beaten track, you should avoid the largest national parks and other popular areas. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore, the Lincoln Memorial, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area are some of the parks that received over 5 million visitors in 2019, according to the National Park Service. Instead of those, plan your road trip to one of your state’s lesser-known parks.

Who Loses?

Tourism is a critical industry in the USA, Europe, and many other countries. Take Florida as one example. Several areas in the state have witnessed job losses of over 20% in the tourism and hospitality sector. Given that Disney closed its parks for much of the summer, these losses are no surprise. The plunge in air travel, international and domestic, means that these industries will see far less business for the foreseeable future.

Cruise Ships Are Closed in Cities Around the World

The cruise industry is also seeing a dramatic fall in business in 2020. In 2017, more than 25 million people sailed on cruise ships. Unfortunately, social distance measures are challenging to implement effectively on a cruise ship.

According to industry website Cruise Critic, the following popular ports are not accepting cruise ships as of August 2020:

  • Albania
  • Argentina
  • Australia — banned ships over 100 passengers, which eliminates the majority of ocean crossing ships.
  • Canada — banned ships over a specific size, which effectively bans most ocean-crossing ships.
  • India
  • Israel
  • Mexico
  • Most Caribbean destinations have banned or severely restricted international tourism.

Road Trip Tourism Wave — How Companies Can Benefit

There are a few ways that companies can adapt to the surge in local road tourism. Start by redirecting your marketing and advertising toward local and regional audiences rather than foreign visitors. Second, play up the flexibility and safety of car travel over planes, buses, and other forms of travel. Finally, look for opportunities to sell products that enable local travel like camping gear and car accessories.

About the Author


Headshot of Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is an author and marketing consultant based in Canada. His first book "Project Managers At Work" shared real-world success lessons from NASA, Google, and other organizations. His articles have been published in CIO.com, InfoWorld, Canadian Business, and other organizations. Visit BruceHarpham.com for articles, interviews with tech leaders, and updates on future books.

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