With vaccination rates rising in the United States and around the world, the common refrain being heard is, “I can’t wait for things to get back to normal,” i.e., life as it was before the Pandemic. A major driver for this is the yearning to connect with each other again on a deeper level, and in the travel industry, this is more apparent than ever.
As a major full-service travel management company serving both business travelers and vacationers, we saw our industry adversely impacted for most of 2020. Travel restrictions, safety concerns, and the struggling economy set the stage for what would be the most challenging time our industry has ever faced. There appears now, however, to be a growing light at the end of the tunnel fueled by optimism in the vaccination rollout and a desire to connect with each other and new cultures once again.
The number of air passengers that pass through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at airports has been rising since the lowest point of the pandemic. In early May, 2020, 7% of travelers passed through TSA compared with May of 2019. In early May, 2021, we’re now at 59% compared with 2019. Per Marty Lenss, Eastern Iowa Airport Director, in a recent Gazette article, “Airlines are asking folks to volunteer their seat because of flights oversold.” Those numbers are being reflected in the uptick in reservations we see booked at Travel Leaders / Destinations Unlimited, as well.
There is a tremendous amount of pent up demand for leisure travel. In 2020, group travel, family vacations, cruises, and a whole host of other vacation trips were postponed due to the Pandemic. In anticipation of a surge in travel this summer, airlines are adding back to their capacity and planning new routes to meet demand, and with airline ticket change policies still relaxed for the most part, travelers are anxious to book flights with that kind of flexibility. Most hotels are enticing travelers with additional bonus points awarded in their loyalty programs.
Business travel is making a comeback, too. We’ve seen an increase of 20% in travel for our corporate and higher education clients from just one month ago. Most organizations used the past 12 months to plan for this moment and are ready to travel as employees get vaccinated and travel restrictions continue to be lifted. During the Pandemic, Zoom meetings provided a substitute to business travel and some suggested that virtual meetings could take the place of traveling. However, successful organizations understand that business travel provides a return on investment in terms of sales revenue and strengthening client relationships. Plus, incentivizing employees with travel awards has been proven to help organizations meet their goals, so it’s unlikely that companies would stray from what has worked so well.
Higher education institutions are also working to incorporate travel back into their operations. Athletics, study abroad, and faculty and staff conferences are only a few areas that have traditionally required a fair amount of travel. To maintain an attractive and high-impact educational experience, travel is a necessity for schools.
Travel will be experienced a bit differently in the coming months. The Pandemic has layered on an additional set of ever-changing travel guidelines and restrictions. These items in addition to the ongoing changes in airline policy, the shortage of rental cars and evolving industry safety measures has elevated the value of a trusted travel advisor and highlights the need for a corporate travel policy and travel management program. We look forward to working with our community to help them navigate this new travel landscape and get back on the road!