Stretch Season: The New Shoulder Period for Leisure Travel


It goes without saying that 2020 has put the travel industry on its heels and altered how we look at consumer behavior, at least in the short-term if not in the long-term. Yet organizations who have remained nimble, targeted and willing to think differently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have found ways to capture visitation and guests during a roller coaster year for our industry. With safety top of mind, there is still new opportunity on the horizon for travel brands to capitalize on.

Introducing the industry’s next big opportunity: The Stretch Season.

Our recent MMGY Travel Intelligence research suggests that 64% of travelers still expect to take a leisure trip within the next six months. This is not terribly surprising when you consider that 1 in every 3 travelers chose to postpone their plans instead of cancelling them when the pandemic took hold in the U.S. In a typical year, leisure travel would be preparing to wind down as we approach the Labor Day weekend, but this is not a typical year – and we see the traditional summer peak period stretching beyond Labor Day and into early October. In fact, 54% of travelers say that they are more likely to travel in the fall this year than in previous years. 

This new travel season, which we are calling The Stretch Season, is an opportunity for travelers to stretch out their summer for several reasons. 

  1. With many schools across the country starting later than normal and others remaining virtual this fall, this season is an opportunity for families to stretch out their time and get out of the house with their kids on a great American road trip. Seventy-three percent of travelers suggest that they would feel safest and be likely to travel in their own personal car – the highest indicator we’ve seen since studying travel sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  2. Only 29% of business travelers expect to take a business trip in the next three months. This new season creates a unique opportunity for those road warriors to stretch out time with their friends and family this year and dedicate more time (and loyalty redemption points) to leisure. 
  3. While the demand and interest in travel remains high, one-third of travelers list concerns about personal finances as a potential barrier to travel. The post-Labor Day season provides these travelers an opportunity to stretch out their travel budget during a more value-oriented time period – especially in destinations that feature outdoor activities like beaches and parks, which continue to lead interest among travelers in our data.

Travel patterns will not return to normal this year; how, where and why people will choose to visit will vary, with considerations for safety and finance remaining at the core of those decisions. However, with social events like graduations being canceled, annual summer vacations postponed and a sense of adventure limited for nearly six months, the demand to travel is real. The travel brands that follow the data will find audiences willing to travel through the end of the year – and we believe The Stretch Season will prove to be a period in which they are eager to get on the road.