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Holiday Travel in the Midst of a Pandemic

Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season, which usually helps boost the Brazos Valley economy. Economists predict a more conservative economic boost this year.

By Mia Mercer ‘23

Graph of Enplanements.

The economy has been hit hard by COVID affecting many industries, like the airline industry. However, economists expect to see a boost in the economy due to the approaching holiday season.

Although Thanksgiving is the highest traffic time of the year, economists predict less than half the amount of flights recorded last year. In 2019 7,704 enplanements were recorded in the Brazos Valley in October and 8,306 enplanements were recorded in November. In 2020 only 2,764 enplanements were recorded in the Brazos Valley in October with fewer enplanements predicted for November than in the previous year as well.  

In response to the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has created safety guidelines for the upcoming Thanksgiving season. A decline in holiday traffic will directly impact the Brazos Valley economy, according to professor Dennis Jansen from the Department of Economics in the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University.

“The pandemic has had a huge effect on the economy and it’s largely been centered around entertainment, tourism, and air travel,” Jansen said. “And although the holiday season typically affects the economy positively, I do not think it will cure all of our ills nor do I believe it will be the same sort of holiday season that we had last year.”

Unlike other cities in Texas, who see a boost in their economies during the summer, the Brazos Valley area sees an increase in employment in the fall and spring, especially during the holiday season. 

“During the fall, there is a combination of shopping and travelling for the holiday season and football season going on due to A&M being open,” Jansen said. “So even though we see a rise in employment, this year we are not going to be at the levels we were in 2019.”

By looking at graphs for hotel receipts in Brazos County as well, monthly leisure and hospitality employment, and travelers through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) check points from 2019 to 2020, we see a drastic change beginning in February from this year. By April of 2020, all graphs showed revenue and travel plummeting to almost nothing. 

Graph of Employment in College Station.

Because it is a college community, the Brazos Valley gets much of its revenue from the fall. Although there will be changes in holiday traveling plans, the economy will still see an increase from where it is now.

“In April there was virtually no travel, but now we’re back to about 35-40 percent of where we were a year ago,” Jansen said. “We’ve made a big improvement since April but we’re nowhere near where we started from since we are still functioning and obtaining revenue at less than half that compared to 2019.”

Although studies have proven the holiday season to positively affect the global economy, especially in places like the Brazos Valley that rely on the revenue the fall festivities bring, it will take some time for the economy to return to normal. For example after the Great Recession in 2008, it took nearly three years for employment to return to where it was before. 

“The Congressional Budget Office has a forecast of GDP total output of the economy, and because we’ve shut down restaurants and bars and big entertainment events, the GDP has fallen a lot,” Jansen said. “When we opened back up a little bit, we had a big increase in GDP output. If you look at the congressional budget office forecast, they estimate having us return to potential output, (output where you’re at full employment) in about three years.” 

According to Jansen, this recession is a unique one. This is because it started with a virus which led to individuals choosing not to travel due to safety and health concerns, which led to the shutting down of businesses, restaurants and sporting events. However, as these parts of the economy reopen, we are beginning to see a rise in employment and general economic activity, especially as the holiday season approaches. 

“When we relax restrictions, we see a bit of a bounce in the other direction; the unemployment rate goes down and the output rate has gone up,” Jansen said. “ So the more you relax the restrictions we’ve imposed on the economy and business operations, the faster we can see a recovery. The problem with that however, is how it would conflict with public health concerns, like a big increase in the infection rates.”

Photo of Thanksgiving pie.

Although traveling plans will be different, we can still find ways to be thankful for what we have.

Even though the economy is opening back up and the Brazos Valley is getting ready to celebrate this holiday season, safety is still a concern. And while the Brazos Valley’s revenue numbers won’t be as high as they were last year, the revenue brought in by traveling this fall and holiday season will nonetheless be a step towards normalcy. 

“The holiday season will be good for the economy, even if there won’t be as much travel or money to be made from getting hotel rooms or rental cars,” Jansen said. “The economy certainly won’t be the same as it was in the past, but it will still be better than not having Christmas or Thanksgiving at all.” 

Whatever your Thanksgiving plans may be, knowing that we can contribute to the economy and have hope for a better future despite the present times, is certainly something to be thankful for.