With COVID-19 restrictions slowly easing, officials say Kansans are eager to begin traveling again.
“People are anxious to get out and travel. It’s summertime, and they’ve been cooped up,” Bridgette Jobe, director of tourism with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism said.
This summer, AAA forecasts Americans will take 700 million trips based on economic indicators and state re-openings. That number is down nearly 15% compared to last July through September and is the first decline in summer travel since 2009. AAA booking trends show Americans are making travel plans, though cautiously and more spur of the moment.
Jobe said KDWPT expects most Kansans to limit their travel, however, to day or weekend trips close to their home. She also believes many will seek destinations where they know they can maintain social distancing.
This summer AAA expects automobile trips to account for 97% of vacations, marking the return of the road trip. Car trips will also see the smallest decrease in travel volume of just 3% year-over-year.
“The great American road trip is still one of the best ways to extend family bonding while exploring stateside destinations, and it can give many the feeling of safety and control,” said Shawn Steward, Manager, Public and Government Affairs for AAA Kansas.
Jobe said with social distancing weighing more heavily on people’s minds, it makes Kansas ideal with the state’s vast outdoor open spaces.
“I would encourage people to make a bucket list, and maybe think outside the box a little bit,” Jobe suggested. “In the past we’ve always thought we need to travel far away to take a vacation, but Kansas offers so much.”
She also suggests road-trippers take advantage of the state’s outdoor parks and scenic byways, several of which are within easy driving distance of Great Bend, including the Kansas Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway which runs through Barton County.
If you are not ready for even an in-state road trip, though, Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Christina Hayes encourages people to explore the summer opportunities right in their own back yard, including Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo, the Wetlands Waterpark, the SRCA Drag Strip and local parks. CVB has several resources available on its website, www.exploregreatbend.com, for people looking for things to do close to home.
For road trips that do require an overnight stay, though, Jobe said do not be afraid to call ahead and check on the cleaning protocols for hotels where you might be staying.
AAA also recommends calling ahead to ensure your hotel is still open and asking about any restrictions or changes to the check-in process. It’s likely that the hotel has reduced the number of times guests have face-to-face interactions with other guests and hotel staff. When you check into your room, remember to wipe down surfaces with disinfecting wipes. Pay special attention to surfaces such as light switches, door knobs, faucets and remote controls.
Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel, said AAA is revising its hotel procedures in light of COVID-19.
“The new criteria will reflect best practices for protecting the health of hotel guests, employees and AAA inspectors,” she said.
National Gas Price Average
AAA expects the national gas price to average near $2.25/gallon for the third quarter of 2020, which will be a 15% decline from the $2.66 average seen last summer. This will be the cheapest summer for filling up since 2016. Kansas currently has the tenth least expensive average gas prices in the nation.
When at the pump, AAA recommends wearing disposable gloves or using a plastic sandwich bag to avoid touching the pump handle. When back in your car, be sure to clean your hands with sanitizer or wipes.
Know Before You Go
If you are planning on a road trip this summer, Jobe recommends calling ahead before you travel. Along with potential hotel restrictions, many restaurants and tourist destinations are operating with modified business hours, and may have other restrictions or regulations in place for visitors.
“Regardless of where you’re headed, planning ahead ensures your travel experience will be both safe and enjoyable,” Steward said.
You can also check the state’s travel resources at www.travelks.com, which provides a link to the state’s COVID-19 resource center.
Kansas AAA also offers the following tips for summer road trip travelers:
• Check the CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker, municipal and state health departments and local news for updates on coronavirus cases and continue to do so while on the road.
• Pack face coverings, gloves and cleaning supplies – like disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer – and a thermometer.
• Take all necessary travel documentation, including health insurance cards.