Like caged animals deprived of natural freedom to roam and explore, the public is eager to break out and head for some much-deserved rest and relaxation after more than a year of almost total travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond the immediate desire to lift some travel bans and experience a wide distribution of vaccines, the public is looking forward to a time when talking about the pandemic, either pre or post-era is the topic of the past. It is not likely that the subject will completely evaporate from conversations for some time to come, but the act of packing a bag and wandering around the country appears to be on the immediate horizon.
New research is revealing that a large majority of Americans (71 %) feel that the vaccine distribution will bring about new travel opportunities this summer. Screening by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has topped over one million air travelers per day, every day, for the past three weeks. A rate ten times the rate of 2020. The increased traffic is a promising sign for the travel industry which may be one of the most severely wounded COVID-19 industry victims. “We’re increasingly seeing people optimistic about traveling, either as soon as this spring or into the summer,” said Jeff Hurst, president of Vrbo. “What’s encouraging is that people are essentially putting their money where their mouth is and booking that trip.”
A recent Vrbo survey indicated that 65% of Americans plan on traveling more in 2021 than they did before the onslaught of the pandemic. The initial indication is that most Americans will be focusing on domestic travel. Booking excursions to international destinations do not appear to be in the near or even intermediate future for most travelers. Marketers are expecting the baby boomer generation to lead the way to travel freedom followed by Gen X and Gen Z counterparts. With the industry reeling from nearly two years of losses, taking-to-the road or the skies this summer will cost travelers more money than in the pre-pandemic era. Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking.com says, “We know prices are going up. Prices will continue to rise as demand continues to increase, as people get vaccinated.” It’s best to book early to get the most economic rates on travel and hospitality services.
The nation’s amusement parks are eager to fill all the seats on the vast array of rides and adventures. Some restrictions on crowd sizes are surely going to remain well into the first summer months. Florida, which eased controls earlier than most states, is experiencing pre-pandemic levels of some amusement park visitation. Disney parks around the world are planning on getting open at various times this summer. “Galactic Starcruiser”, Disney’s new Star Wars-themed hotel, is promised to be open sometime this summer. A 20-minute visit to “Savi’s Workshop”, where young visitors can build a personal lightsaber will be a new attraction popular with Star War fans. Disney seems to be pushing the envelope of “how much is too much” by attaching a premium price tag to a stay at the new accommodations. The resort owners have increased the price of a youngster’s very own lightsaber by 10%. Only time will tell whether a $219.99 per lightsaber is too much for a cash-strapped family to pay. The Park Pass reservation calendar for the month of May is completely booked for Hollywood Studios at Disney’s California and Florida locations.
Regardless of which amusement park or vacation-site travelers choose this year, the travel experience will be different than pre-pandemic times. Enhanced hygiene protocols will continue to greet travelers on arrival. Extended stay accommodations will be popular as most Americans are planning on taking fewer trips away from home. Privacy is still in vogue as people adjust to the new freedom of movement and away from fears of COVID-19. Contactless check-in services and limited physical interaction with hotel staff will continue, and touchless food and beverage service will remain popular as travelers get comfortable with traveling again. With many travelers feeling a pinch in wallets from the past year, the brands that emphasize value and flexibility will draw favor from this year’s traveling consumer.
Despite the optimistic early trends, the travel industry as a whole will not see a total recovery of fortunes until at least 2024. So, where are you planning on heading?