2018’s Biggest Holiday Destination Gainers and Losers

With the holiday season in full swing, we decided to take a look at our proprietary data, cross reference it with some third party data, and identify what useful trends we are seeing and how they will impact travel marketers this season.

While the Friday before the 4th of July is the busiest single travel day of the year–with more than 2.7 million people flying to various destinations for the holiday festivities, according to the Transportation Security Authority (also known as the TSA) the holiday travel season is massive. The 18 day stretch that starts on Thursday, December 20th and runs through Sunday, January 6th is expected to see nearly 46 million travelers journeying to various destinations across the U.S., according to the trade group Airlines for America. Meaning that travel during Christmas and New Year’s will also surpass Thanksgiving, which had more than 30 million people board planes in 2018, according to the Airlines of America.

We saw a similar trend in hotel bookings, as New Year’s surpassed Thanksgiving this year and Christmas bookings fell only a little behind Thanksgiving. Despite these small differences in popularity, the booking trends between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s were similar with travelers booking their hotel room stays as early as 5-6 months ahead of each holiday and significantly ramping 2-3 months prior to the holiday. Bookings then achieved their largest spike in the 2-3 weeks leading up to the holiday.

This year, we also saw some interesting changes in travel destinations for the holidays. The biggest gainers and losers for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are listed below:

2018 Holiday Destination Gainers

2018 Holiday Destination Losers

It’s not particularly hard to see why travelers want to spend some of their vacation time in warm and tropical destinations, like Hawaii and Florida, while also avoiding locations that often require some time to recover from the hurricane season (e.g., Miami Beach and Key West in Florida). However, we were surprised to discover the increasing popularity of Reno, Nevada. We attribute this gainer to its high likelihood of offering travelers a winter wonderland atmosphere with lots of fun indoor and outdoor winter activities, such as gambling, snowshoeing, and skiing. Reno is also the closest airport to Lake Tahoe, which boasts some of the best skiing in the U.S.

We cross-referenced our proprietary booking data with air travel trends and found a correlation between airports with the worst and best on-time holiday travel. For instance, Honolulu, Maui, New York La Guardia and Orlando rank in the top 10 best airports for on-time holiday travel, while Boston, Washington Dulles and Baltimore rank in the top 25 worst airports for on-time holiday travel, according to 10 years of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (data averaged from 2008-2017).

Takeaways for Travel Marketers

Every destination has slightly different characteristics for each holiday, but there are some overarching strategies that travel marketers can take to drive revenue. Hoteliers in the gainers destinations should look to increase ADRs for these holidays when there is a reliable surge in demand. On the other hand, the destinations in the losers category need additional marketing or demand-generation. These hoteliers should look to push efforts for these times of year when demand is organically low. Additionally, travel marketers should plot out their campaign playbooks based on the booking window trends noted at the beginning of this post:

Holiday Booking Window Trends

Other Fun Holiday Travel Facts:

  • Most of the holiday bookings happen on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
  • During the holidays, Reno and Stateline in Nevada surge in bookings, whereas bookings in Las Vegas decline.
  • South Lake Tahoe is a popular holiday destination, with the exception of Memorial Day.
  • Florida is most popular during Martin Luther King Jr. Day and least popular during Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
  • Kissimmee, Lake Buena Vista, and Orlando are all popular for Christmas.
  • The least preferred big city to travel to during Thanksgiving is Denver, CO (also listed as one of the top five worst airports for on-time holiday travel).
  • San Francisco’s bookings are constant throughout the year, including holidays.
  • Atlanta is popular during Martin Luther King Jr. Day and New Year’s Day and not popular during other holidays.
  • Except for Labor Day, Chicago is not popular during holidays.

If you’re interested in learning more about how events impact travel booking trends, download our free travel index.


Marketing , Travel