The Big Bounceback: Travel

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Welcome to our new series, The Big Bounceback, exploring how industries will return as the world reopens. In this edition, we look at the travel and hospitality industry. Travel was one of the hardest hit categories over the last year of pandemic, and travel marketers are hoping that pent up demand will lead to a rebound.

Travel was one of the hardest hit categories over the last year of pandemic, and travel marketers are hoping that pent up demand will lead to a rebound.

As more people get vaccinated, they are more likely to take that trip that was cancelled and cash in on those vacation days. In fact, 80% of US consumers said they would take  domestic trip this year and 47% of global travelers said they plan to travel internationally this year, per a TripAdvisor survey from January. 

"We are seeing travel return and are increasingly optimistic as the administration of the COVID vaccine accelerates. Many Americans spent much of the past year unable to travel, and we know there is renewed interest to make up for lost time reconnecting with family and friends and to go on vacation." said Christine Kettmer, Senior Director, Global Enterprise Insight & Strategy at ‎Marriott International.

Hotel chains such as Marriott and IHG have been making commitments to cleaning protocols and social distancing rules designed to protect guests and make them safer. These measures and a more vaccinated population is making people more comfortable returning to the pleasure of travel. 

“Travel is an essential part of all of our lives and will have even greater importance as we come out of the next phases of the pandemic,” said Liz Crisafi, Vice President, Global Campaign Marketing at IHG Hotels & Resorts. “History tells us travel will return, and while the shape of recovery will remain varied globally, there is a lot of pent-up demand and travel is starting to come back in certain markets. The rollout of the vaccines is incredibly welcome and gives us clearer path to recovery.”

The airline industry is already beginning to bounce back after being hard hit last year and that momentum will likely carry into the next couple of years. 

“Unlike the universal effect Covid-19 had in reducing demand for air travel, the return of demand will be varied,” said Tim Mapes, SVP and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Delta Airlines. “Domestic will be faster than international, and certain destinations, such as Florida and the Mountain West, already are more of interest than others. We expect leisure travelers to return to the skies ahead of business travelers, but when corporate travel does resume it will accelerate fast. Look for 2023 to be the year global air travel demand surpasses 2019 levels.”

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said the company is already seeing a boost in bookings while speaking at the J.P. Morgan Industrials Conference last month. “What we’re seeing in the last few weeks is a real uptick in bookings,” said Parker, referencing early March bookings. “Our last three weeks have been the best three weeks since the pandemic hit, and each week has been better than the prior one. And that appears to be continuing into the fourth week of that period. So we’re really getting to a point where bookings are coming up very close to what we had seen in the past. That number last week was actually 20% lower than 2019. So we’re getting really close to 2019 numbers in terms of total bookings.” 

From a global perspective, trips to Europe may be out this summer as countries in the region have been slow to roll out vaccines and many are currently in lockdowns in a new wave of infections. Still, as the vaccine programs amp up, consumers have expressed a demand to take a trip once they are able to.

“The pandemic continues to raise unique challenges for destinations around the globe, which means we’ll see a staggered recovery, with markets returning to pre-pandemic levels at different times,” said Angelique Miller, Senior Director, Creative Partnerships at Expedia Group. “But demand to travel is here now, and a recent study we conducted on travel sentiment and influences, showed that travelers, globally, anticipate taking 1.7 trips between April-September 2021.

“In the short term, our customers are showing a preference for domestic trips with flexible bookings options,” she continued. “Whilst there is no clear answer on when international travel will be fully restored, we do firmly believe it will again prevail as the driver of tourism, as more vaccines are rolled out at a global scale and we reach herd immunity.” 

While most consumers are dying to go on a vacation first, as reopenings continue, business travel will follow.

“Business travel will have a longer road to recovery than leisure travel as companies evolve the way they work,” Crisafi said. “At the same time, non-discretionary business travel - from construction workers, to entertainment and small business owners, is happening now. We also know that our traditional business travelers are ready to hit the road again, although their reason for travel may be different. In a recent IHG Hotels & Resorts survey, 40 percent of people who travel for business said they miss face-to-face meetings. Virtual environments can’t replace the meaningful relationships that come from those face to face interactions.”

After more than a year of Zoom meetings with work colleagues and family members, the demand for travel cannot be denied. The time and place will be determined by vaccines and health safety.

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