This summer, the U.S. has recorded some of the highest travel numbers and traveler optimism since the start of the pandemic. On August 1, TSA screened more than 2.2 million people, the highest number of travelers since the start of the pandemic.
However, despite this positive momentum, uncertainty lingers due to the rampant spread of the Delta variant in recent weeks. Caseloads are increasing, mask wearing is becoming common again, and regulators are ramping up travel warnings and other restrictions.
As the U.S. faces a COVID-19 surge again and the situation changes from one week to the next, we must continue to remain flexible in order to navigate the rapidly changing guidelines and public sentiment around travel.
The following is a summary of trends and industry shifts that MMGY NJF has compiled from recent media feedback, widespread reporting and webinars.
TRENDS IMPACTING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY & RESULTING MEDIA OPPORTUNITIES
- Press trips are back – Last month, the MMGY NJF team reached out to a number of media to gauge interest in group and individual in-person press trips. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with most media showing an eagerness to travel immediately within the U.S. and internationally, and a preference for individual over group press trips. Most journalists also shared that they had been vaccinated.
- An optimistic cruise industry outlook – The cruising industry is staging a comeback after a tumultuous year of fear and uncertainty around setting sail again. In June, Royal Caribbean Cruises became the first major cruise ship to restart U.S. operations, with a sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, FL. Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard D. Fain was optimistic about cruise travel sharing that, “The ship environment is no longer a disadvantage, it’s an advantage because unlike anywhere else, we are able to control our environment, which eliminates the risks of a big outbreak.” Despite the potential threat that the Delta variant poses on cruising and travel as a whole, experts are generally optimistic given the cruise industry’s unshakably loyal customer base. Cruise lines, such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and more, have seen significant increases in bookings for both U.S. and international travel.
- Fall and winter travel deals – According to a recent survey from American Express Global Travel, 63% of consumers want to be more intentional with their paid time off this fall and use it for vacations. Fall bookings are going fast, with domestic travel to places with outdoor offerings taking the lead. While many airlines, hotels, cruise lines and more are offering low-cost fares and deals to incentivize fall and winter travel, prices are starting to rise despite the increase in infection rates. When considering booking fall and winter travel, the CDC recommends reviewing country-specific travel guidance, avoiding international travel if you are unvaccinated, and avoiding nonessential travel to Level 4 destinations even if you are vaccinated.
- International travel forecast – For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the European Union announced a plan to reopen the continent to Americans, with an emphasis on those who are vaccinated. With the launch of the EU’s Digital Green Certificate on July 1, EU travel has seen an increase with a June 2021 Return of Travel study, ranking Turkey, Ireland, Greece, Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Spain and France among the top international travel destinations this summer. In 2019, before the pandemic, tourism and related activities accounted for 10% of the EU’s GDP. According to the IUS Travel Association July 2021 Report, international inbound travel is not expected to fully recover until 2024. International spending is projected to reach just 67% of 2019 levels in 2022 and 87% in 2023. International leisure travel is expected to recover slightly faster than international business travel.
- A wary return to business travel – After a year and a half of pausing business travel, companies are evaluating whether to resume pre-pandemic travel levels despite domestic leisure travel having largely recovered. When considering business travel, companies are weighing budget, business carbon emissions, employee well-being and remote meeting solutions. Experts are saying that remote-work arrangements may also lead to employees traveling to off-site meeting locations, instead of headquarters, which may impact hotel and airline loyalty programs.
- Remote work travel continues to be popular and a topic of much debate, with Airbnb reporting nearly double the number of bookings in June 2021 compared to 2019, and companies such as Uber and Google rethinking their return-to-office policies. Despite many workers preparing to return to the office in the coming months, several companies will continue to offer workers the flexibility to work remotely through hybrid or entirely WFH models. Within the travel industry, news of booming vacation rental sales, extended remote-work visas, flexible stays and work-travel trips persists.
- Vacation rental sales continue to soar – According to the National Association of Realtors, vacation home sales showed a 57.2% increase in the first four months of the year compared with the same period last year. Beach and lake communities attracted the highest number of buyers, with destinations such as Lee County, FL, Oscoda County, MI, and Duke’s County, MA, home to Martha’s Vineyard, taking the lead. With the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, experts anticipate this trend will remain strong as buyers look to more desirable locations outside of major cities.
- Race and inclusivity topics continue to penetrate the media as travelers – particularly Black travelers in the U.S. Canada and U.K/Ireland – pay close attention to how the travel industry responds to the events of the past year. According to MMGY Global’s Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities research report released earlier this year, 54% of U.S. black travelers agreed that Black representation plays a key role in travel marketing and advertising. Safety is another important factor in travel decision-making, with 71% of U.S. and Canadian respondents sharing these sentiments. Some destinations and tour operators within the travel industry are responding by promoting their diversity- and inclusion-oriented tours, historical and culturally relevant cities, museums and monuments, and more. In the media, we’re seeing personal essays and stories of how minority groups such as Indigenous and Asian Americans are traveling. In speaking with travel media, topics of race and inclusivity continue to be important and should remain top of mind for our clients.
- Pandemic travel trends that are here to stay – Among the media, we are continuing to see reporters leverage trends around road trip travel, national park visits, outdoor adventures, and interest in secondary and tertiary cities.
- The New York Times closed its At Home print section, which launched during the pandemic as a resource for readers on how to cope with confinement and offer a sense of solidarity, hope and practical advice. The At Home print section had replaced the Sunday Travel section in April 2020, soon after the start of the pandemic. The New York Times reported, “Now, as pandemic restrictions fade, readers tiptoe or stride back into the world and The Times covers the many facets of reopening, the weekly At Home print section in the Sunday Times is coming to a close.” While the digital edition continues, the last print edition appeared on May 30. It’s still unclear whether the Travel section will return after its long hiatus.
- The New York Times also announced the discontinuation of its annual travel show after 17 years of serving as the largest travel industry show in North America. The decision comes as the travel industry faced one of its worst years in modern history, disturbed by a global pandemic, reduced revenue and shuttering businesses.
- American Express’ luxury lifestyle magazine Departures relaunched as a digital publication for members only last month. Readers must sign in with an American Express Platinum Card or Centurion Member account to read the stories.
- Culture Trip announced a line of small-group adventure tours to destinations around the world led by their travel experts and local insiders. The announcement came in an email newsletter; however, an official launch date has not been shared yet.