The new Omicron COVID-19 variant has quickly threatened to become the dominant strain of the pandemic. As tighter restrictions loom due to a variant that appears more contagious than the others, holiday travel is beginning. Last year, lockdowns and restrictions kept many travelers at home but this year appears to be different. 

winter tiresAAA reports that more than 109 million people expect to travel during the 2021 winter holiday season, up 34% from the same time last year. That’s only 8% lower than pre-pandemic travel volume from 2019. Senior VP of AAA Travel, Paula Tisdale, said, “Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new omicron variant. With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”

Air travel is expected to be 184% higher than 2020’s winter holiday break, but a recent survey from reveals that a higher percentage of travelers have shifted their travel plans from flights to road trips. 61% of travelers plan to drive rather than fly. More than 40% of road trippers are hesitant “to take other forms of public transportation”.

Of survey respondents, 56% are traveling more than 50 miles away from home, a 30% increase year over year. 20% of those who planned to fly initially – going so far as to booking airline tickets – reversed their decision and decided to hit the road instead. senior editor, Mike Hanley, said, “The holidays are a time for gathering, and with lingering pandemic concerns and the rise in remote work, travel trends are changing. Our data states one in five travelers had a flight booked this holiday season but canceled it to drive instead.”

Related: How will the new covid variant affect dealers today? Tom Maoli weighs in.

Remote working allows for more flexible travel

The instances of remote working have increased in recent months. Gallup reports that “45% of full-time US employees worked from home either all (25%) or part of the time (20%)” in September, and that rate has stayed quite steady. That figure does not include exclusively self-employed people either. 

Increased ability to work from wherever they are located has changed travel trends, specifically in how long drivers stay at their destination. Nearly one-third of those driving more than 50 miles plan to stay away from home for at least one week.

Hanley iterated, “With newfound flexibility at work, Americans are choosing to drive to their destinations and stay longer with family. Time will tell if these travel trends continue, but one thing hasn’t changed: Americans love their road trips.”

An indirect effect on auto retail

Of course, employment in auto retail isn’t exactly tuned for remote working and the timing of this data won’t impact preparations for this holiday season in sales or service. However, understanding the trends can help both service and sales departments plan for the next major travel weekend on the calendar, Easter 2022, and beyond.

Increased road travel should be a reason to emphasize good vehicle maintenance practices. And as parts shortages continue, helping drivers realize that postponing routine servicing could put them at risk of longer downtime than normal may reduce instances of declined maintenance and repairs.

Sales leads can be approached to encourage a decision to upgrade a vehicle prior to the next holiday, ensuring soon-to-be buyers can secure the car they need in time for long-distance drives.

Evidently, concerns about the Omicron variant have shifted intentions for some travelers but won’t keep them at home. They’re hitting the road instead, and it’s an opportunity for dealers to better serve them once again.

Did you enjoy this article from Jason Unrau? Read other articles on CBT News here. Please share your thoughts, comments, or questions regarding this topic by submitting a letter to the editor here, or connect with us at

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date or catch-up on all of our podcasts on demand.

While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for all the latest auto industry news from CBT News.