It's Going to Be a Busy Summer for the Travel Industry

Memorial Day weekend travel volume surpassed pre-pandemic numbers without overwhelming the system — a positive sign for the rest of the high season, writes travel & hospitality analyst Lindsey Roeschke
Image of a car driving on a road.
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
June 08, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • 33% of U.S. adults say they plan on traveling for leisure this summer. 

  • After a record-breaking Memorial Day weekend, summer travel shows no signs of slowing down, and more consumers are prioritizing farther-from-home destinations. 

  • The industry is well prepared for the coming high season, but brands must keep an eye on costs, which continue to take precedence when consumers book a trip. 

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Summer is officially here, and travel is officially back. Headlines after the 2023 Memorial Day weekend were unequivocal — the holiday period, typically the start of the busy summer travel season, was a roaring success. Morning Consult data suggests that this is not an anomaly and that the remainder of the summer will be a busy one for the travel industry. And, if activity through Memorial Day weekend was a sign of what’s to come, the industry is prepared to handle the high volume of travelers this summer. 

Travel volume hit pandemic-era highs over Memorial Day weekend 

The travel industry could breathe a collective sigh of relief after Memorial Day weekend came to a close. Volume was high as predicted, with TSA screening the largest number of passengers since before COVID-19 kneecapped the industry. Despite the increased number of travelers, there were no reports of major meltdowns in the air or on the roads. The busy holiday weekend was just a hint of what’s to come for the remainder of the summer, as travel volume should continue to be strong.

A full third of U.S. adults said they plan on traveling for leisure between June and August, including 12% who said they plan to take a trip this month. And many who are traveling this summer are going big: 28% said they’ll travel internationally — a 5-percentage-point increase from the same time last year — and 30% will take a trip that’s at least one week long. 

However, there is also enduring strength in the great American summer road trip, as nearly two-thirds of those with travel plans over the summer months said they plan to travel in their own car. Where will those road trips go? For many, to a national park, a theme park or a resort — more than a third of U.S. adults with travel plans named each of those destinations as places they plan to go on an upcoming vacation.

When it comes to accommodations, chain hotels are still the most popular option, with around half of travelers saying they’ll stay at one. But vacation rentals also continue to grow in usage — 22% of those with summer travel plans said they’ll stay in a vacation rental, on par with the highest number measured since Morning Consult began tracking in November 2021.

Domestic Road Trips Will Dominate Summer Travel

U.S. adults with travel plans in the next three months reported where they plan to go, how they will get there and where they will stay
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Survey conducted June 1-4, 2023, among at least 725 U.S. adults with plans to travel for leisure in the next three months, with an unweighted margin of error of up to +/-4 percentage points.

The breadth of approaches to travel underscores the sheer popularity of the category during the summer — no matter what the destination, accommodation or mode of transportation, Americans are excited to get away.

Summer travel surge is likely to continue, and the industry appears prepared 

Summer is always a popular travel time, but it’s not always without headaches. Just last year, high travel volume resulted in chaos at airports, as the industry wasn’t fully prepared to handle the number of “revenge travelers” who were taking flight. This year, however, has been a different story. Although the number of travelers outpaced 2019 volumes on Memorial Day weekend, travel chaos was limited to the typical long queues at TSA checkpoints. This is likely the result of careful planning for the summer holidays — airlines have cut back on routes to streamline operations, hired more staff and are even using larger planes to accommodate more passengers.

However, past experience also shows that a small problem can have ripple effects on the whole system. A regional storm, a system outage at one airport or an app glitch with one airline could result in flight delays and cancellations nationwide and strand thousands of passengers. The threat of an issue like this comes at a time when trust in the airline industry is tenuous. Around 60% of U.S. adults said they trust both airlines and airports, but only 16% said they have “a lot” of trust in airlines, and just 18% said the same about airports. And while lackluster trust may not be keeping travelers from booking air travel, they are less likely to give airlines and airports the benefit of the doubt in the event of a disruption to their travel plans.

Trust in Airlines and Airports Is Middling Compared With Other Sectors of the Travel Industry

Share of respondents who trust the following types of travel companies:
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Surveys conducted Oct. 22, 2021, to June 4, 2023, among representative samples of roughly 2,200 U.S. adults each, with unweighted margins of error of +/-2 percentage points.

The industry appears to have taken proper measures to prepare for a summer travel surge from an operational perspective, but it must also be prepared for the inevitable customer service demands that come with the busy summer season. Traveler trust is built and broken through individual experiences, so companies must ready themselves to quickly and seamlessly address any disruptions that come with the increased volume.

High prices aren’t stopping summer travelers … yet

While summer travel is always more expensive than an off-season trip, that is especially true in 2023. Prices for air travel, hotel reservations and vacation rentals are all higher this summer than they were last year. At the moment, that’s not discouraging travelers. Instead of canceling trips or avoiding travel, many are looking for ways to save — around 3 in 10 travel rewards card holders said they’ll cash in points or rewards within the next three months.

Many Travel Rewards Card Holders Are Ready to Cash in Their Points for Summer Trips

Share of U.S. adults with travel rewards credit cards who said they plan to book travel using points or rewards …
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Survey conducted June 1-4, 2023, among 730 U.S. adults with travel rewards credit cards, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.

But travel companies can’t count on that mindset to persist. Price has historically been — and remains — the top factor travelers consider when booking transportation and accommodations, and splashing out on an expensive summer holiday may result in less room in the budget to take smaller trips in the fall or winter. In addition to personal economic factors, macroeconomic realities will also impact Americans’ travel plans. The ongoing threat of a recession looms large over the industry and has the potential to grind all of the progress made to a halt.

Lindsey Roeschke is a travel & hospitality analyst. Lindsey’s work focuses on behavior and expectations in travel (among other categories), particularly through a generational and cultural lens. In addition to her research and advisory background, Lindsey has more than a decade of experience in the advertising world.
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