Holiday Season Travel Trends and Predictions: What Consumer Foot Traffic Data Tells Us

December 5, 2023

The holiday season is known as one of the most popular times to travel, whether it’s to visit with family or to go on leisurely getaways. However, last year saw significant shifts in holiday travel, as record prices for airfare and hotel rooms impacted consumers. Furthermore, numerous flights were abruptly canceled due to severe snowstorms, triggering a domino effect of further cancellations. As this year unfolds, consumers are facing pressing economic challenges, such as surging inflation, heightened interest rates, and resumed student loan repayments, which could potentially disrupt expected holiday travel trends this year.

To find out what the travel industry can expect this holiday season, we analyzed consumer foot traffic data to places in the transportation and accommodation categories during the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s in 2022.

Foot Traffic Trends: Transportation

In 2022, airports saw a significant 29% decline in foot traffic during the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s, compared to all other weeks. Train and bus stations also experienced an 11% decline, whereas public parking lots and rental car locations saw increases of 12% and 3%, respectively.

The notable downturn in airport foot traffic might be attributed to economic challenges, such as high inflation, which affected consumers last year. In fact, approximately 60% of Americans were living paycheck to paycheck before the holiday season last year, and this financial strain likely deterred many from spending on airfare and travel.

Moreover, airfares surged by approximately 40% in 2022, compared to 2021, driven by a variety of factors like increased jet fuel prices, fewer scheduled flights, and pent-up travel demand. The surge in fares likely influenced individuals to choose to stay home and save money instead of traveling. Furthermore, the decrease in foot traffic at bus and train stations could be linked to the usual decline in business travel and commuting during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s.

When looking at foot traffic trends by day during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s in 2022, there was a sharp rise to all transportation types on Christmas Eve, likely due to the influx of travelers aiming to arrive at their destinations by Christmas Day. From December 26-29, there was a significant increase in foot traffic to rental car locations, bus stations, and train stations. This uptick likely stemmed from the thousands of flight cancellations that occurred on December 26, which may have prompted consumers to use rental cars, buses, or trains as an alternative means to reach their destinations.

Foot Traffic Trends: Accommodations

In 2022, most types of accommodations experienced significant declines in foot traffic during weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s, compared to all other weeks, with golf resorts being the sole exception, seeing a slight 1% increase. Hotels saw the greatest decrease in foot traffic, declining by 37%, followed by motels with a decline of 31%. Additionally, inns, destination resorts, and lodges experienced respective drops of 18%, 17%, and 9%, respectively.

The decrease in foot traffic to accommodations seen during the holiday season in 2022 likely stemmed from the economic challenges consumers faced. Additionally, in 2022, hotel room prices hit unprecedented highs. The combination of heightened demand and limited supply—stemming from certain hotels not surviving the pandemic and others grappling with staffing shortages—drove up prices.

Those traveling to visit family likely chose to save on accommodations by staying with relatives, contributing to reduced foot traffic at hotels, motels, and inns. Furthermore, individuals who usually vacation during Christmas and New Year’s may have opted to save on costs by either staying home or by taking shorter trips closer to home, resulting in decreased foot traffic at destination resorts and only a modest increase at golf resorts.

When looking at foot traffic trends by day during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s in 2022, foot traffic across all accommodation types surged notably on Christmas Eve, as most people aimed to arrive at their destinations ahead of Christmas Day celebrations. After Christmas, foot traffic to all accommodation types declined but picked up again leading up to New Year’s Eve, an expected uptick given that many people typically travel to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Holiday Season Travel Predictions for 2023

In 2023, ongoing economic challenges such as inflation, rising interest rates, and resumed student loan payments continue to significantly shape consumer behavior. These financial pressures are expected to have an impact on travel trends during the holiday season this year. 

Overall, consumers’ inclination toward saving rather than splurging on travel expenses is likely to be a dominant factor shaping travel patterns this year, echoing trends seen in 2022. With individuals increasingly prioritizing savings, we expect reduced foot traffic at both airports and accommodations during the upcoming 2023 holiday season.

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