August 12, 2020

Why 'daredevil' travelers are vacationing in Covid-19 hot spots

Daily Briefing

    While the travel and tourism industry took a huge hit due to the coronavirus pandemic, some so-called "daredevil travelers" are still choosing to go to coronavirus hotspots for their summer vacations, according to a USA Today analysis.

    Infographic: The germs on a plane—and how to avoid them

    Travel interest wanes during US coronavirus epidemic

    A USA Today analysis of travel data from Trivago, a platform for searching and reserving hotels, showed a significant dip in travel requests at the start of the U.S. coronavirus epidemic.

    According to the analysis, hotel search volume in April this year was 92% lower than it was at the same time in 2019. But, as some states reopened nonessential businesses and eased their social distancing measures, the volumes started to increase a bit in May and June, with hotel search volume in July 73% lower than the same time last year.

    Trip planners have echoed the findings, noting that a lot of travelers are willingly canceling their trips to avoid hot spots of coronavirus transmission.

    For instance, , Matthew Loraditch—a 35-year-old from Maryland, whose trip to South Africa in July was canceled after South Africa closed its bordered—opted to cancel a trip to Las Vegas that had been scheduled for June and a Disney World trip that was scheduled for September. "I'm not doing anything now," he said.

    Likewise, 54-year-old Amy Fesmire from Colorado said she canceled her family's summer trip to Isle of Palms in South Carolina—a 22-year tradition in her family—due to the state's high number of coronavirus cases. "When I called to talk with someone there, she said that it was crazy and no one was wearing masks," Fresmire said. "My daughter-in-law is pregnant, so we didn't want to take any chances."

    Instead, Fesmire and her family went to Yellowstone National Park because it was within driving distance. Fesmire said they rented a lake House in Idaho and made day trips to the park. According to Fesmire, the entire family wore masks whenever they left the house.

    And Justin Rose, a 37-year-old trip planner from Virginia, said four families canceled their Disney World plans after the park reopened due to "concerns for [the coronavirus] itself or concerns that the experience at Disney would not be what it was prior to the shutdown." Rose added, "A lot of people plan their trips a year or two years in advance. They do all the pre-planning and go through all the excitement to build up to it, and then to have it be canceled last minute, out of their control, is really unfortunate."

    Some vacation in coronavirus hot spots

    But while travel volume remains low overall, USA Today's analysis found that people interested in traveling are focusing on traditionally popular destinations—even if those destinations are areas currently experiencing surges in coronavirus transmission.

    "In general, especially when there is a crisis like this pandemic, people tend to be very conservative in terms of their travel behavior," said Robertico Croes, a professor at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at University of Central Florida. "It means that they go to the places where they're familiar with."

    For instance, Florida, California, and Nevada were the most-searched domestic travel destinations on Trivago even though the states are also considered coronavirus hot spots. Florida almost returned to normal booking levels this summer, going from 95% below 2019 levels in April to 18% below 2019 levels in June, USA Today reports. (Although, according to USA Today, volumes in Florida and other states dipped again in July when the number of new coronavirus cases started to surge in several states).

    According to Croes, Florida, California, and Nevada are popular travel locations because they are "very traditional summer places for domestic travelers," in part due to theme parks in California and Florida and casinos in Nevada.

    Why some Americans are traveling during an epidemic

    Croes and his team in May surveyed almost 2,000 American travelers and found that about two-thirds who responded said they would not travel in the next year.

    Among the people who said they would travel, 40% said they would stay close to home and travel only to places with a relatively small number of coronavirus cases. However, 27% of those who said they would travel identified as "daredevils," expressing less concern about the virus when selecting travel destinations and voicing greater willingness to travel farther.

    One such daredevil, Craig Haseman, a 49-year-old physician from Indiana, booked a rental in Florida in July with 11 other people—and stayed for a week.

    Haseman said he booked the trip when most states had started reopening, adding that he had no way to predict coronavirus cases would spike during the week of the trip. "When the numbers were going down everywhere, we went ahead and planned it," Haseman said. "As we got close to time, we realized that the numbers were going up."

    Haseman said the group kept the plans, but they spent time with only each other to social distance.

    Separately, after canceling a trip to Costa Rica in June, Susan Glasser and her husband flew from Tennessee to Jacksonville, Florida, instead. Glasser said the trip went so well that she's looking to book another family trip with her five children in September or October.

    "We are not overly frightened of coronavirus, but we are pragmatic and cautious enough," Glasser said. "We felt as safe as can be when traveling during [the epidemic]" (Zhang/Oliver, USA Today, 8/10).

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