Vacation Trends 2021: Last-Minute Vacations Before Back-to-School Season

September 13, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has perhaps impacted travel more than any other industry and that impact can still be felt today. People are now planning their vacations way ahead of time, especially due to last year’s delayed vacation plans. This year, travelers seemed to be particularly interested in last-minute vacations before the official end of summer on Labor Day weekend. Back-to-school season was more stressful than ever because of the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s no surprise that many Americans opted for a last-minute getaway before the school year started. 

Using location intelligence — which measures human mobility — we can determine where vacation-goers choose to visit based on hotel foot traffic patterns. For this analysis, we compared consumer foot traffic at hotels for the week of July 25th through the week of August 8th, 2021. Which cities and states did people go to most often for a last-minute vacation? The results may surprise you.

Vacation Trends 2021: Last-Minute Vacations Before Back-to-School Season

Hotel Category Trends

Foot traffic to U.S. hotels was 19% higher during the week of August 8, compared to the week of July 18, 2021. This indicates that consumers tried to fit in end-of-summer travel plans before school started. Consumers anticipating a surge in coronavirus infections due to new variants—possibly impacting fall and winter travel plans— might have been another reason for this increase in hotel stays.

Hotel Visits by State

Hawaii, Wisconsin, and Delaware saw the biggest increases in foot traffic during the period. For the week of August 8th, foot traffic to hotels in Hawaii was 65% higher compared to the week of July 18, while Wisconsin and Delaware were 37% and 33% higher, respectively, for that same week. What do all three states have in common? An abundance of nature and outdoor recreation. From the serene beaches of Hawaii and Delaware to the lakes of Wisconsin, travelers opted for places with temperate weather and relaxing views before heading back to their busy lives. 

In contrast, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee saw the lowest increases in hotel visits. These Southern states are known for hot and humid summers, especially in August when average temperatures near 90 degrees. Alabama and Louisiana are also among those states with the highest number of coronavirus cases. This, too, could have impacted hotel visits as many travelers opted to visit states with lower rates of infection.

Hotel Visits by City

Hotel visits by city also show a fascinating trend when it comes to last-minute vacations. Birmingham, Fort Lauderdale, and Tucson all showed declines in hotel foot traffic during the period, topped by Nashville where hotel foot traffic numbers actually were 9% lower during the week of August 8, compared with the week of July 18. Cities like Nashville have an abundance of short-term home and apartment rentals which are often popular alternatives to hotels. People might have been wary of staying at Nashville hotels where the contact risk with others was greater than having a house or condo to themselves. 

Coming in with the biggest percentage increase in hotel foot traffic is Honolulu, which showed a remarkable 73% increase for the week of August 8, followed by Miami (+38%) and Sacramento (+38%). Although Honolulu residents have been very vocal as of late about not wanting an influx of tourism on their beaches, that has clearly not been the case. A recent USA Today article claims that “Officials in Hawaii have approved a plan to reduce the number of tourists on its most populous island.” This trend in hotel visits indicates that tourists continued to visit Hawaii, despite protests from locals and area officials. 

While Miami and Sacramento didn’t see as much of an increase in hotel visits as Honolulu, vacationers were also interested in exploring these cities. Short-term rentals are banned on Miami Beach, so hotels are the only option for travelers unless they don’t mind staying in the suburbs of Miami where rules are more lax. In Sacramento, it might have been easier for tourists to book hotels than vacation home rentals—which might have already been booked.

Fall and Winter 2021 Vacation Trends

Based on our data, we predict that hotel foot traffic numbers will decline as we move into the autumn and winter seasons due to cooler weather, and coronavirus variants with increased risk of transmission. We don’t expect business travel to return yet anytime soon. Leisure travel will remain one of the most popular vacation trends among consumers in 2021. Increases in foot traffic numbers, particularly to warmer places like Honolulu and Miami, will likely be the result of people traveling south to escape increasingly frigid temperatures in the Northeast and Midwest. For more information on using location intelligence to understand consumers trends, contact us today.

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