Vaccine distribution is ramping up, stimulus checks are being sent, and summer is on the horizon. It’s a hopeful combination that’s got Americans itching with wanderlust.Airline, hotel, and restaurant spending are all up compared to a year ago when the pandemic first ravaged the country, although still not close to pre-pandemic times. While the number of people passing through US airports daily is about double what it was this time last year, it’s still half of what it was for most days in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
1. So how is travel set to make a comeback, what signs do we have that it is?There are a lot of signs that travel is having a comeback. First off, we know that more Americans are intending to travel soon – in fact those planning to travel or go on vacation in the short term have increased slightly week over week, from 36% to 39% in the first week of March alone. Airlines have also had their busiest weekend last weekend since pre-pandemic times – in fact the weekend of March 12, US airports saw the highest number of travelers since before the pandemic began. Also, we know that people are already booking vacation rentals and hotels – Airbnb and VRBO saw a surge in bookings the week of March 3 that exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
2. So how different will travel look when it does make this comeback? What kinds of innovations have come about because of COVID? For travelers, health and safety are going to be the top concerns when making travel plans. Travel insurance products, for example, have been able to pivot to address these increased concerns, including specifically adding Covid medical and trip interruption coverage. You’ve got air medical transport programs like Medjet that, if you are hospitalized while traveling, will arrange medical transportation to your hospital at home. Most travel insurance only evacuates to a nearby hospital, Medjet gets you moved home. They added Covid-19 transport benefits last October, for domestic travel and international destinations like Mexico, Costa Rica and the Caribbean as they opened up.
3. What about innovations in technology?Innovations in technology are also giving consumers the resources they need to make informed decisions, minimize risk and maximize safety while traveling. It is expected that more touchless options will emerge for identity verification. ‘Thermal Imaging’ or ‘Infrared Thermographic Systems’ will emerge to enable virtual health screening at airports. Touchless technologies will also push credit cards, touchscreens, or – digital signature pens to a thing of the past.
3. And what about any lingering hesitancy?Well despite those planning to travel or go on vacation – in the short term has increased – some studies have shown that just over half of Americans have no intentions to travel in the short term, although even that is significantly down from the 70% who felt that way in January. There is also the argument that while people are traveling again and booking travel, that it is mainly to see family rather than to spend money on hotels or resorts. In general the hesitancy seems to be coming from international travel rather than domestic travel. There is also the mode of transport and type of trip to keep in mind.
5. What about cruise travel?Cruises for example are still being met with hesitancy – as we know the CDC announced this week it will keep limiting cruises until early November. But keep in mind, enforcing Covid safety precautions on a cruise line where passengers are in close proximity for extended days, is obviously much harder than enforcing them on a plane or in an airport, where we have seen the dramatic impact touchless protocols and the HEPA filters alone have made – so much so that we know most airlines are now confidently filling the middle seat again.