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2022 Labor Day Leisure Travel & Shopping Trends

September 9, 2022 | 3 min read

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

While Labor Day weekend marks the start of the school year and the unofficial end of summer, this year’s long holiday weekend delivered key insight into the state of the retail and travel industries as millions of Americans shopped Labor Day sales and left home for end-of-summer getaways. 

  • Labor Day air travel saw record numbers, with nearly nine million people passing through TSA checkpoints around the country. 

  • Retail sales kicked off the holiday shopping season with big box chains like Costco and Sam’s Club setting out holiday decor and Christmas trees. 

  • Recent data from the Conference Board shows consumer confidence rising, suggesting Americans remain eager to shop, dine out, and travel heading into autumn. 

Last month, an online survey by AAA found that roughly 30 percent of Americans planned to travel for Labor Day weekend, and of those, 82 percent would drive. Domestic travel bookings, which included air travel, cars, cruises, hotels, and tours, were expected to be up 22 percent from 2021 levels.

These plans held true as TSA saw more travelers pass through security than during the 2019 Labor Day weekend. Nearly nine million people passed through airport security checkpoints across the country this weekend, a 106 percent increase from 2019 figures.

After a summer of record high fuel prices, travelers remained resilient and committed to enjoying a quick getaway over the long holiday weekend with airports and highways packed and surpassing 2019 travel trends. According to CNBC, flight disruptions over Labor Day weekend were below recent trends as travel demand over the holiday weekend beat expectations and marked the end of the summer travel season.

Labor Day air travel saw record numbers, with nearly nine million people passing through TSA checkpoints.

Pursuant to PMG Insights’ trend tracking, hotel occupancy levels, airline, and event ticket sales, and TSA checkpoint travel numbers all ticked up this summer as travelers jet set to national parks in remote places, city centers, and international destinations for concerts, vacations, and more.

Even the destination wedding business is booming, with travel advisors reporting that 2022 demand for destination events is surpassing 2019 totals, with a record number of fall 2022 weddings on the books. According to TravelPulse, warm-weather regions like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica are some of the most popular destinations this year. 

The latest data from travel agency reported a 678 percent year-over-year increase in searches for intercontinental flights during the first six months of 2022, with more American tourists flocking to the UK than other European destinations.

According to Grupo Gemes, a think tank focused on tourism in Mexico, the Mexican Caribbean region, which includes Cancun and Riviera Maya, saw a record number of visitors during the summer months, and expects fall bookings to continue this trend.

Nearly nine out of ten consumers said they planned to shop deals and holiday promotions over Labor Day weekend, according to market research company Numerator. Of those, twenty-five percent planned to shop for Labor Day deals on clothing and household essentials, while 51 percent expected inflation to impact their Labor Day plans in some way, like planning shorter road trips to skirt gas prices or pare down festivities to reduce the grocery bill.

Retailers across PMG’s client portfolio notched mixed results for the long holiday weekend, with some brands seeing mixed performance in-store while others recorded impressive online demand. The majority of retailers, including Kohl’s, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target, and Walmart, held Labor Day sales, with recent product news and promotions signaling an early start to the holiday shopping season.

Walmart, for example, unveiled its annual top toy list just days before Labor Day weekend and a month earlier than last year. Last week, Axios reported that Christmas trees and holiday decor are already on display at Costco and Sam’s Club locations. Similarly, Oreo, Bath & Body Works, Krispy Kreme, and Dunkin’ launched fall flavors and menu items in recent weeks, an earlier start than ever, as the return of pumpkin-spiced fall products continues to inch up the calendar year. In recent earnings calls, executives from Macy’s, Target, and Walmart said their brand was looking to shed excess inventory after two years of supply chain challenges.

The majority of retailers like Target and Walmart hosted Labor Day promotions and mega-sales, supported by holiday decor in-store to help kick off the holiday shopping season.

Between deep discounts and fall order reductions, retailers are deploying a variety of strategies to level set inventory and prepare ahead of the holiday season. Next week’s August Consumer Price Index (CPI) report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will give a more accurate picture.

But until then, strong Labor Day travel and retail trends, coupled with last week’s readout by the Conference Board, which saw consumer confidence surge to its highest level since May, demonstrates that American consumers remain eager to shop, travel, and enjoy experiences while growing increasingly optimistic about the state of the American economy.