As travellers become averse to traveling via airplane due to Covid-19 risks, more road trips across the US will be taken this summer. Whilst helping to boost the US economy, this predicted increase in road trippers may impact the environment negatively for years to come.

The fear of contracting Covid-19 is still a major deterrent for tourism, as according to a Verdict Community Survey*, 50% of respondents are discouraged from traveling due to the fear of contracting Covid-19. In the US, where there is an extensive and convenient road network, many families may opt for a summer road trip, instead of traveling by any other form of public transport, such as by air, train or coach. By traveling in a family ‘bubble’ in a vehicle, it almost eliminates the risk of contracting Covid-19.

However, this increase in road trips could be overshadowed by the detrimental environmental impact they could have, and the lasting impacts of this.

The nature of road trips can be unsustainable

Carelessness of drivers by leaving engines running whilst stagnant, discarding trash in unauthorised places, and much more could impact the US environment negatively. It may be hard for the individual driver or passengers in the vehicle to understand the combined impact their carelessness may have. A stiff increase in the number of road trippers could see this detrimental threat increase exponentially.

Overtourism might also be an issue, as sites that attract many domestic visitors – such as national parks and beaches – with no capacity limits will see an influx of visitors that may be unmanageable. Due Covid-19 imposed capacities at attractions such as theme parks, museums and resorts, travelers that have not booked in advance could be forced to visit places with no strict capacity measures. This will cause overcrowding at natural sites, and due to their location, it could pose more risk to the environment and local communities. As a result, particular destinations may become known for being overcrowded and lose their appeal in the process.

Inflated prices will help to minimise the impact

Increased costs for aspects of a road trip such as tolls, parking charges and tourist taxes, will enable local areas to manage the impact that an increase in road trippers could have on the environment. It could allow for destinations to improve resources such as by adding more: stewards for parking, litter pickers for site preservation, and facilities for visitor education, in order to improve overall sustainability. As families are potentially saving costs on air fares and more extravagant international trips, many could be willing to spend more on domestic holidays which could help to minimise the negative impacts they could leave when undertaking a road trip.

However, the increase in visitation to destinations targeted by road trippers will be mostly welcome. After a period of low travel due to Covid-19, local tourism businesses will be thankful for visitors and inbound spending, despite the harmful impact to the environment.

*Verdict Community Survey live between 17 November 2020 and 18 May 2021, with 1,364 respondents.

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