With election day behind us, politics continue to dominate the news cycle along with a nationwide surge of COVID-19 cases. There is certainly a lot of discussion about what the new administration’s impact will be on the travel industry. Both CNN and Condé Nast Traveler shared pre-election insights from travel experts about how soon travel will resume on a significant scale, what methods of transportation people will use, and even where people will go. And given Pfizer’s hopeful announcement this week that a vaccine is just around the corner in early 2021, we’re headed in the right direction.
The following is a summary of trends and industry shifts that MMGY NJF has compiled from media feedback, widespread coverage and webinars:
TRAVEL TRENDS AND COVID-19 IMPACT ON THE INDUSTRY:
- Despite COVID-19 Cases Hitting a Record High in the U.S., Travel Restrictions Continue to Lift. A number of destinations are lifting/easing restrictions as a way to increase visitation. Thousands arrived in Hawaii on the first day of pre-travel testing, though much to the relief of some concerned locals, a shutdown is expected to be announced soon due to the influx of visitors and to new outbreaks. Approximately 20 other countries and regions have also recently lifted 14-day quarantine restrictions, including a number of the Caribbean Islands, Costa Rica, Dubai, Mexico, Panama and Bermuda.
- Air Travel Is Safer Than Visiting a Grocery Store. Scientists at the School of Public Health at Harvard conducted a gate-to-gate study to determine the layered approach U.S. airlines are taking to protect travelers from COVID-19. Findings showed that the risk of COVID-19 transmission on board an aircraft is below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out.
- CDC Lifts Cruise Ban; Industry Hits Pause. While the CDC issued an official framework for resuming safe and responsible cruise ship passenger operations, Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., and Carnival Corp. all announced their own voluntary sailing suspensions through the end of the year. The three easily comprise nearly 80% of the market, setting the tone for the industry. That was echoed in CLIA’s announcement just days after the CDC’s. Despite the voluntary pause, the future of cruising is looking bright based on consumer bookings for 2021 and 2022. MMGY Global’s research also reflected this surge in interest, seeing web searches for cruise-related questions such as “are cruise lines open” increase by 1000%.
- Travel as a Response to COVID-19 Stress for Niche Demographics. There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on the lives of all Americans. The APA is cautioning that “we are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.” And MMGY Global’s research reinforces that, with 58% of American travelers agreeing that having a vacation scheduled in the next six months would make them feel that there is something happy to look forward to. And some groups are taking that to heart. As The Cut notes, a niche group of young professionals in wellness, finance, tech or “entrepreneurship” “industries” who boast high salaries and have digital jobs they can do anywhere are enthusiastically planning international trips as a necessity to combat the effect COVID-19 has had on their mental health.
- American Airlines Offers COVID-19 Tests. In a step toward what could be the future of air travel in the time of coronavirus, American Airlines expanded its preflight COVID-19 test program, allowing more travelers to easily conduct any mandatory tests before boarding their flights. In partnership with LetsGetChecked, an at-home testing option, travelers heading to Belize, Grenada and St. Lucia will have the ability to pre-test starting Nov. 16. The PCR test is taken at home, observed virtually by a medical professional. The results are available within about 48 hours, on average. Travelers are responsible for the $129 cost of the test.
- Big Hotel Brands Eye and Support Recovery. Marriott is seeing recovery, reporting revenue per available room totaled $41.24 in the third quarter, a 19% increase from the previous three months. And Hilton’s primary international philanthropic arm, the Hilton Effect Foundation, recently released its list of 2020 Hilton Effect grantees. Through these grants, and combined with donations the Foundation has already made, the Foundation has now contributed over $1 million to various community-based organizations, which are directly addressing the devastating effects of COVID-19 in myriad areas where the hotel company operates.
- Consumer Interest Rises for “How to Travel” Insight. The Society of American Travel Writers’s annual conference in October was held virtually this year with a panel of top-tier travel editors including Fred Gonzalez, Managing Editor at American Way; Melanie Lieberman, Senior Travel Editor at The Points Guy; Jacqui Gifford, Editor-in-Chief at Travel + Leisure; and Kevin Shapiro, Vice President, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief at TravelAge West. These tourism industry experts all reported that readers are more interested than ever in getting service information and guidance on how to travel with safety and flexibility in mind. In a similar light, these editors are starting to see a hunger for first hand experiences about traveling amid COVID-19, which is influencing the types of stories editors will cover in order to meet this demand. Anecdotally, our daily conversations with the media indicate that this acute rise in consumer interest for on-the-ground information signals that a greater set of Americans will travel in Q1 and Q2. But ultimately, it has been a mixed bag about the media’s comfortability in promoting travel. Some journalists have made their intentions clear they do not wish to promote travel as COVID-19 cases surge.