Did you know that 2021 is set to be the Year of the Great American Road Trip? Last year, many of us hit the road to shelter in place with family members. Later that summer, we took to exploring local areas and attractions once the cabin fever set in. 

As summer approaches, many Americans are still weary of flying and leaving the country, so we’re opting to hit the road. According to VRBO, 82 percent of families have travel plans for 2021. Whether it be by train, RV or automobile, road trips are expected to the #1 vacation choice for most of us this year. Local businesses, hotels, Airbnbs, restaurants and retailers are getting ready for an influx of visitors. 

Local Travel and Road Trips Are About Connection and Wellbeing

We as Americans are feeling burnout, sick of feeling isolated and miss friends and family. Recently, both Airbnb and VRBO released their 2021 travel trend reports and highlight how their data shows a shift toward more meaningful travel as the pandemic continues to limit travel choices. 

According to Airbnb, trips people booking on their platform are looking to connect with loved ones (friends and family) and find ways to improve their mental health. They show the top emotions they want to feel during their trips are “relaxed” (44 percent ), “comfortable” (34 percent) and “safe” (33 percent). This is leading them to opt for road trips and outdoor locations and activities in order to maintain a certain level of distance. 

According to VRBO, domestic travel is being viewed as an act of self-care; a way to help deal with feelings of loneliness, isolation and lack of connection. VRBO found that 59 percent of families say they are more likely to drive instead of fly on their next trip and 61 percent of families said they are more likely to visit an outdoorsy destination over an urban one.

What Does “The Year of The Road Trip”  Mean For Retail?

So what does the Year of the Great American Road Trip mean for retailers? It means an influx of business. According to Destination Analysts, 64 percent of travelers want to support local businesses. That means that you will have local customers, but also new, visiting customers coming through your door. That offers you the opportunity to sell merchandise to them that fit the season, as well as goods that fit their travel needs and desire to remember the experience. 

travel tourism retail recovery

What Kind of Merchandise You Should Keep In Stock?

For travel and tourism-based businesses, destinations, and attractions, you’ll want to stock up on:

General Travel Merchandise

Since more people are traveling and exploring the U.S. this season, it gives retailers the ability to carry general travel goods in their stores. Walking sticks, water bottles, fanny packs, small backpacks, portable stools, portable cookware, campaign supplies, waterproof or UV protection apparel basics, first aid kits, are estimated to be great sellers.

PPE Staples

PPE has become, and will remain, a hot retail category. Carrying masks, bandanas, hand sanitizers and anything that helps on-the-go travelers maintain safety protocols is going to sell steadily. Get creative in the designs and brands you carry to encourage purchasing. Masks are now fashion accessories. 

Gifts & Souvenirs

Carrying namedrop and logo items will definitely bring in sales as most visitors are going to buy souvenirs and gifts to remember their “Great American Road Trip.” Cups, caps, mugs, magnets, t-shirts and sweatshirts will see strong sales. Don’t forget more trend driven items like stickers and utility knives. Also, don’t be afraid to add locally made products to this mix. Many consumers are big on supporting local business and makers through their purchases.

Personal Electronics

Carrying cell phone chargers, earbuds, and electronic basics are impulse purchases. Don’t shy away from carrying them if they make sense in your store. 

Souvenir and Gift Merchandise Travel Ideas

Where Are People Traveling?

So if people are traveling, you may be wondering where they are going (and if they are coming to your town). According to Washington Post, Travel + Leisure and Travel Pulse, the top destinations for travelers are: 

  • Gulf Coast (multiple cities)
  • Montana (multiple cities)
  • Wyoming (multiple cities)
  • U.S. territories (which are exempt from the new in-bound testing requirement) and Alaska
  • Miami, Florida (and other cities)
  • Maui and Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Anchorage, Alaska
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Phoenix and Lake Havasu, Arizona
  • The Hamptons

Our national parks are also expected to see more visitors this year than previous years. And it’s recommended that you book your reservations now as campground reservation sites like Recreation.gov, Hipcamp, Campspot and Tentrr have most spots already filled. 

Top National Park Visits

  • The Smoky Mountains –> Wait! That’s Us!
  • Glacier National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • The Grand Canyon

Jason Guggenheim, travel analyst at Boston Consulting Group, says that national parks are popular destinations for travelers eager for adventure, “I think it’s going to be pretty crowded in national parks for the foreseeable future.”

Long Term Impacts of Domestic Travel on Tourism-Based Retail

In terms of travel and tourism recovery, we’re only at the beginning. For all areas of travel to recover, it’s not going to be until 2023 or 2024. What we’re seeing now are just the beginnings, and even these bright spots are coming with challenges. As domestic travel begins, here are some tips to help your businesses. 

  • Require Customers to Wear Masks – Don’t be afraid to post signage requiring all customers to wear masks or maintain social distancing. While we’re moving into recovery, not everyone has had vaccinations and COVID is still producing variations. Err on the side of caution. 
  • Don’t Compromise Cleaning – Continue to have your employees regularly clean your store fixtures and handles. If you need to forego fitting room access, don’t be afraid to do so. 
  • Keep up on Contactless Options – There are still customers weary of shopping. And with the influx of tourists and visitors, they may still be hesitant to come into stores unless absolutely necessary. Continue to offer contactless pickup for items they order online or via phone. 
  • Offer Curbside Pickup or Delivery – Curbside pickup and delivery are here to stay. Just like with your contactless options, make sure you can make purchases easy for your customers who want to be a little cautious. 
  • Take Mental Health Breaks – We’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go. Don’t neglect your mental health when it comes to your retail recovery. If you want to keep shorter hours, move into new ways of selling online more slowly, or simply scale back, then do so. Your mental health is a top priority. 

As we move into summer, we hope to keep hearing more positive stories how you navigated the pandemic. Don’t be afraid to reach out to our editorial team to share your story!

Recent Posts