As Borders Reopen, Brands Prepare for Travel to Ramp up Again
Abby Long is the Senior Managing Editor at PMG.
With the United States reopening its international borders to vaccinated travelers from more than 30 countries starting in November and popular destinations like Australia beginning to emerge from travel restrictions, pent-up consumer demand for travel continues to grow stronger by the day.
Catch up quick: The latest on U.S. travel restrictions
The most significant update the White House announced detailing border reopenings was the news that the transatlantic route between the U.S. and European countries, which serves as the most important long-haul [travel] market in the world, would also reopen.
Behind the scenes, greater collaboration between transportation leaders and public health experts across regions helped make the announcement possible. Improvements have led to more uniformity for the travel experience concerning vaccination requirements and testing protocols. News of America rolling back travel restrictions was largely unexpected as the country has lagged behind other countries in reducing travel restrictions for international travelers. Already, airlines have seen a surge in bookings for transatlantic flights following the announcement from the White House.
Related: U.S. border with Canada to open
According to Reuters, the U.S. Travel Association estimates that declines in international visits since the pandemic began have resulted in more than $250 billion in lost income for the industry. The November 8 reopening date “is critically important for planning — for airlines, for travel-supported businesses, and for millions of travelers worldwide who will now advance plans to visit the United States once again,” said Roger Dow, CEO of U.S. Travel Association.
America’s border reopening is a huge confidence boost for the domestic and global travel sector, though it also serves as a major test for the industry. A successful reopening will set the trend for other markets to follow. In contrast, breakthrough cases or discernible COVID-19 outbreaks caused by reopenings, particularly along transatlantic routes, could slow the pace of recovery for the entire global economy.
“The full reopening of international travel is critical to reviving economies around the globe, reinvigorating communities, and supporting millions of jobs in the U.S. and abroad.”
Nick Calio, CEO of Airlines for American industry trade group
According to the latest Morning Consult survey, more than 60 percent of Americans are “comfortable going on a vacation” in the latest sign that Americans are ready to travel again.
Source: Morning Consult
Similarly, PlaceIQ data shows that consumers are returning to their favorite entertainment venues or beginning to travel again, with foot traffic to movie theaters, airports, and hotels notching slight increases again after fears of the Delta variant dampened foot traffic trends in September.
Seasonal holiday demand, the reopening of the transatlantic route, and a decline in COVID-19 cases have raised industry hopes that consumer comfort levels will continue to rise and fuel travel demand. A recent analysis of TSA checkpoint travel data over the last 30 days shows more than two million people are regularly traveling through TSA checkpoints, a significant increase from the less than one million average daily screenings seen this time last year.
Source: TSA checkpoint travel numbers
Google reports that searches for places to stay in the U.S. have risen between 10 to 25 percent year-over-year, though more than 95 percent of search interest throughout the past 12 weeks for accommodations in the U.S. have originated from domestic travelers. “On average 45 percent of travelers said they planned to travel within their own countries in the early fall, and eight percent planned to travel internationally. When it comes to holiday travel, 30 to 40 percent will plan trips a month or more in advance, while the majority will make plans less than a month ahead of time.” Google also found that “visiting family” was the top reason Americans are traveling this holiday season.
While travel demand cooled off over concerns for the Delta variant after peaking around Independence Day in July 2021, Google search volume data shows early signs that interest in travel is picking back up just in time for the holiday season.
Source: Google Destination Insights
According to Google’s Destination Insights, Las Vegas, Nevada, New York, and Los Angeles are seeing the highest search demand within the continental U.S. “Cancellations have abated [and] bookings are recovering,” CEO of Hawaiian Holdings Peter Ingram told Reuters in an interview. “As we get to Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’ve got the opportunity for a strong, solid recovery.”
According to The Skift, “bookings have recovered at Delta Airlines, which expects domestic travel demand to surpass 2019 levels next year while United Airlines said it would offer more than 3,500 daily domestic flights in December,” the company’s biggest domestic schedule since the pandemic began. In light of these trends, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an association of 290 airlines, anticipates North American air carriers will return to profit next year ahead of their counterparts in other regions due to pent-up consumer demand in the U.S.
As travel demand heats up for the holidays, travel marketers will need to remain agile in their messaging and tactics as headwinds such as rising costs, worker shortages, and the pandemic threaten to cancel plans and impact bookings. As businesses across the travel and hospitality industries struggle to rebuild, some services, like rental cars, remain limited.
Uncertainty is the new normal, and travelers want flexibility. The New York Times recently reported that some luxury travelers are “trip stacking” by booking two trips for the same period in case one falls through due to unforeseen circumstances. Travelers are increasingly prioritizing safety, flexibility, and price, deals, and discounts when booking flights, hotel accommodations, train rides, rental cars, and other travel plans.
“Travel brands, specifically hoteliers and short-term rental companies, should continue to keep an eye on retail consumption and macroeconomic challenges due to ongoing shipping and fulfillment latency,” said Stephanie Dworak, senior director of client strategy at PMG. “We believe there is an opportunity for agile travel brands to provide their customers with off-season value through travel gifting and experiences in lieu of potential retailer delivery woes. In short, earmark some incremental investment for the month of December. Be there for them through the last day of retail shipping as a thoughtful alternative.”
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Travelers are sticking close to home, seeking more sustainable options, and are looking to make the most of their travel experiences as many holiday travelers make plans to visit loved ones in the months to come. For travel marketers, it will be critical to anticipate and understand consumer needs and expectations while keeping a close eye on potential headwinds to ensure travelers are provided with a safe, flexible, and meaningful travel experience.
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