Road Trip Revival

The road trip is about to have a major revival.

Dating back to the 1880s, road trips are part of America’s collective national psyche, as they represent freedom and the excitement of the unknown. Journeying by car provides the traveler the opportunity to get off the beaten path, make authentic connections, discover and support local communities, and appreciate the ‘in-between’ places.

In recent years, the hospitality industry has evolved on the idea that you need to hop on a plane and travel a great distance to experience the world, 2018 reported the 9th consecutive year of sustained growth in international tourism. But, flying is out, at least for the moment and it’s forecasted that international flights won’t begin to reach the same number as 2019, until at least 2024. Alongside a significant decrease in flights, the International Labour Organization (ILC) reports that approximately 68% of the world’s total workforce is currently employed by companies with enforced workplace closure. With the added prospect of a prolonged U.S. recession, the post-lockdown big international ‘bucket list trips’ planned for 2020 may not be feasible right away.

The hospitality industry has been massively affected by the pandemic, but we don’t see this as a permanent situation. “Humans are social creatures. Our instinct to travel will not vanish, we have an unquenchable desire to explore. It will come back online, slowly, and in phases.” Says Scott Lee, President, SB Architects – “To start with, people are going to be cautious about where they’re going, and they won’t want to immediately jump on a plane, so, I think the drive-to destinations will be the first to come back online. It’s going to be a while before people feel good about flying and checking-in to a large urban hotel.”

Given the lockdown ‘cabin fever’, people are itching to roam wide-open spaces. As restrictions ease, the urge to jump into a car and escape into nature will be undeniable. The ‘drive-to’ market; National Parks and outdoor focused destinations like Lake Tahoe or Park City, coastal destinations such as Big Sur or The Keys, and places to enjoy the best in food and wine like the Napa and Sonoma Valley; will be the first tourist spots to fill up and will stimulate a round of renovations and restorations as hoteliers strive to refresh. We’re seeing this trend validated by our current workload, which includes a variety of projects in Napa and Sonoma Valley with clients who are anticipating an imminent surge in local travel. This is reflected in the early data: according to Arrivalist’s Daily Travel Index, for a fourth straight week since travel bottomed out during the first week of April, they’ve seen an increase in activity across the country.

“As an industry, this has been the hardest situation we’ve ever endured, however, travel will come back. We are seeing from industry experts that of course travelers will be most comfortable with domestic trips/staycations and locations they can drive to first. We are already seeing this at Montage Laguna Beach and Montage Palmetto Bluff where travelers are starting to book new reservations.” Says Robin Kennedy, Executive Vice President, Acquisitions & Development, Montage International.

The call for people to disconnect and immerse in nature was omnipresent pre-COVID, and road trips tap into a desire for slow and immersive, adventure travel. Even with the restrictions lifted, driving destinations will feel like the safe option. Resorts like Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort, (currently planning to open their doors again on June 1st) designed by SB Architects, will appeal due to its spacious and secluded atmosphere. You drive your own car to your private suite and then nestle into idyllic natural environments.

“While we are excited and eager to travel again, the well-being of guests and associates will remain our top priority. We have announced our Montage International Peace of Mind Commitment as well as our partnership with One Medical where we will be offering guests and associates access to virtual care any time of the day.” Robin Kennedy, Executive Vice President, Acquisitions & Development, Montage International.

With climate change and sustainability at the forefront of people’s minds, and travelers becoming increasingly aware of the negative environmental footprint of mass air travel to bucket-list destinations, ‘slow travel’ was predicted to be a leading trend of 2020 by ABTA. Booking.com reported that ‘in 2020, almost half (48%) of travelers plan to take slower modes of transport to reduce their environmental impact’ The idea of simple grounded luxury hospitality experiences and ‘staycations’ are going to surge.

Amongst all the uncertainly and stress of the lockdown, one of the positive outcomes has been the entire world slowing down and embracing life’s simpler pleasures: whether that be connecting with neighbors, engaging in traditional activities, or acquiring an increased awareness of the local area’s tourism offerings. In a recent interview with QUO, Rafat Ali, Founder and CEO of Skift, coined the term ‘radical localism’, which encompasses a collective embrace of all things ‘local’.

There is something undeniably romantic about the open road, sweeping past cinematic landscapes. It’s not just about the destination, it’s about the journey. While we smooth our maps across the floor, turn on our GPS, and fire up our engines, remember that “The road must eventually lead to the whole world.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

Image Credits:

Image one – California Coast, Grant Cai

Image tw0 – Kevin Wolf

Image three – Hotel Villagio, Yountville, California – designed by SB Architects, photography by Will Pryce

Image four – Montage Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina

Image five – Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort, Napa Valley, California – designed by SB Architects

Image six – Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort, Napa Valley, California – designed by SB Architects

Image Seven – Montage Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina