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U.S. consumers gear up to hit the road and foreign destinations

Economic Indicators Oct 26, 2021 02:25PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Traffic is seen at the Lincoln Tunnel ahead of the July 4th holiday, in New York City, New York, U.S., July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Dan Burns

(Reuters) - U.S. consumers, itching for a change of scene after more than a year-and-a-half of constricted pandemic life, are as eager to travel as at any time since COVID-19 sent the world into rolling waves of lockdowns, and now a record number of Americans plan to get out of the country in the next six months.

Nearly 48% of consumers plan a vacation in the next half year, a survey from the Conference Board released on Tuesday showed. That is the highest positive response rate to the every-other-month question included in the economic research group's benchmark consumer confidence survey since February 2020, the month before the coronavirus triggered a short but deep recession.

Travel and leisure activities were the hardest hit by coronavirus lockdowns. They began improving notably early this year on the back of COVID-19 vaccinations but tailed off over the summer and early fall as the Delta variant swept through the country, especially regions with the lowest inoculation rates such as the South that are also popular vacation destinations.

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Lynn Franco, the Conference Board's senior director of economic indicators, said in a statement the increase this month was "a reflection of the ongoing resurgence in consumers' willingness to travel and spend on in-person services."

That indication came as consumer confidence overall rose unexpectedly in October, snapping a three-month skid that had been triggered largely by the summer's Delta wave and by concerns over rising inflation.

While by far most people plan a trip somewhere in the United States - and by car - a record 16.8% said they are headed to a foreign country between now and next April. That tops the previous record of just under 15% in the October 2017 survey and is roughly double the series historic average of 8.4% dating to the 1970s.

For a graphic on Headed to distant shores:

With fewer people planning to travel by air, the surge in foreign travel plans may in part reflect the pending relaxation of restrictions at the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico, the two countries most easily reached by motor vehicle from the United States.

Indeed, nearly 35% of those planning a getaway of any sort say they will travel by automobile, the fourth-highest percentage since the Conference Board launched the vacation-plans supplement to its survey in 1978.

Of those planning to get away, just 19.6% plan to get aboard an airplane, the lowest percentage since the Conference Board's survey in February. That is more than 3 percentage points lower than the average over the past decade and 10 points below the record of greater than 30% in August 2019.

The number of passengers proceeding through airport security over the latest weekend totaled roughly 5.8 million, more than double the volume from a year earlier but still only about 85% of the passenger volumes from the comparable period in 2019, the latest Transportation Security Administration data showed.

For a graphic on Hopping a flight soon? Maybe not:

U.S. consumers gear up to hit the road and foreign destinations

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Glenn Ebersole
Glenn Ebersole Oct 26, 2021 6:20PM ET
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