In March, as we marked the one year anniversary of pandemic shutdowns, we saw America’s vaccination program launch into full swing. Over 150 million doses have been distributed in the U.S, with a daily average of 3 million doses administered. The increase in vaccinations has greatly influenced consumers’ perspectives on travel, and according to MMGY Global’s recently released Portrait of American Travelers® survey, consumer optimism and travel intent has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
While the intent to travel is there, the survey also indicated that as U.S. adults plan for, and the industry anticipates, an uptick in leisure travel, safety remains a primary concern. Domestic road trips continue to be the most likely form of near-term vacation travel, with 62% of U.S. adults expecting to take at least one leisure vacation during the next six months and personal car was chosen as the preferred mode of transportation.
The following is a summary of trends and industry shifts that MMGY NJF has compiled from recent media feedback, widespread coverage and webinars:
MEDIA SHIFTS AND COVERAGE OPPORTUNITIES
- Departures Goes Digital – American Express recently announced the shift for Departures and Centurion magazines to move to a digital-first distribution, as well as ceasing their publishing agreement with Meredith Corp. The final print issue of Departures will be its spring home and design issue, while Centurion’s paper finale will be the spring/summer edition. Although the magazines will move to digital only, future print issues have not been ruled out by American Express.
- Individual Experiences Over Group FAMs – As we begin to turn the corner in the pandemic, more media are becoming open to taking press trips. However, one holdover remains from this past year of uncertainty – the preference for solo trips over group FAMs. While responses to outreach across the board have varied, the preference for individual travel remains, and is, a top priority. In extending invitations, we must take into account the sensitivity of preferences during this time, with some writers very willing to travel immediately and others being hesitant until they are fully vaccinated.
TRENDS IMPACTING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY
- An Impending Airline Rebound? – Make room in the middle, air travel is expecting a summer surge. Delta, one of the last major airline holdouts, joins other carriers in offering middle seats for purchase. The move, effective May 1, is in part to compete with rivals such as United and American who are reporting 80% full flights per Bloomberg. The pandemic also saw the expansion of two new budget airlines, Avelo and Breeze Airways, further fueling accessible leisure travel. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports that as summer approaches, airlines are taking a different strategy with scheduling, creating “placeholder” flights that will only operate if there is enough demand. Further evidence of a rebound in air travel can be found in TSA’s screening of over 1 million travelers each day since March 11.
- Vaccine Passports – The standardization and execution of a digital resource to house vaccination credentials, serving as a “vaccine passport” is under way by the U.S. government. The initiative intends to provide verifiable proof of vaccination as a way of returning to “life as normal” with large scale concerts, festivals and events. The measure joins the European Union’s plans for digital certificates ahead of summer travel but faces a partisan fight domestically as the debate becomes politicized.
- Domestic Travel Eyes a Promising Summer – While much of Europe, Asia, South America and Canada remains closed to American travelers, pent up wanderlust is bubbling over, leading to increased domestic tourism. Without business travelers, the leisure market shows growth with low-cost carriers expanding flight routes to tertiary cities, such as Southwest’s plans to service 17 destinations including Eugene, OR and Jackson, MS. The rise in domestic travel has resulted in a continued emphasis on smaller destinations with outdoor experiences as evidenced in new flight route openings. Additionally, in a move in line with major airlines, Amtrak recently announced they will no longer block middle seats and will sell to capacity beginning May 23. For international travel, a growing list of countries continue to welcome Americans with restrictions and, at times, vaccination requirements.
- Pandemic Relief, Taxes and the Hospitality Sector – The U.S. government’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill and pandemic-related Congressional measures have provided $79 billion in payroll support and direct aid to U.S. airlines, nearly $29 million for restaurants as part of passage of the American Rescue Plan and $15 million in targeted aid to live music venues. Skift reports that in the travel sector “trade groups like the U.S. Travel Association are vying for travel tax credits to be a leading part of the next round of stimulus.” Additionally, Skift goes on to say, “the American Hotel & Lodging Association wants a hotel industry-targeted grant program akin to what the airline industry got from each of the three major coronavirus relief packages passed in the last year.“ Meanwhile, major U.S. cities like New York City will see a $2.5 billion fall in property tax revenue as the value of hotels, retail and office properties has decreased by 15.8%.