Following a surge of domestic summer travel fueled by confidence in readily available vaccines, the quick-spreading Delta variant has led to uncertainty as to whether a strong fall travel season will follow. Business travel recovery has slowed and navigating international travel continues to be difficult and requires constant vigilance to determine what restrictions are in place at any given time to enter a country as well as visit attractions.
Hoping to restore consumer confidence, travel companies are instituting new vaccination policies for employees. United Airlines became the first U.S. airline to require vaccination for all domestic staff, while American Airlines and Alaska Air have ended special leave policies for unvaccinated employees who have to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. Several New York hotels have also announced they will now require proof of vaccination from guests.
The following is a summary of trends and industry shifts that MMGY NJF has compiled from recent media feedback, widespread coverage, industry conferences and webinars:
- Budget Travel – Tourists are feeling the pinch of the elevated cost of airfare, gas, rental cars and accommodations. With sales and deals few and far between, domestic destinations that offer significant value, great public transportation or free attractions offer significant appeal to media writing for budget-conscious travelers.
- Multigenerational Travel – Following a year of canceled celebrations, trips to spend time with loved ones continue to top many people’s travel wish lists in 2021. Families are reuniting in a big way with vacations designed to accommodate multiple generations. Destinations and hotels with diverse offerings that appeal across age groups have a prime opportunity to appeal to those looking to reconnect.
- U.S. Destinations to Remain in the Spotlight – With complex international travel restrictions in place, media focus remains on domestic destinations offering robust outdoor experiences, reemerging culinary scenes and fall events with clear safety protocols.
- Meredith Pauses International Travel – In response to rising Delta variant concerns, Meredith Corporation has prohibited all international business travel by its staff. Press trips are on hold until further notice across the publisher’s outlets, which include Travel + Leisure, Better Homes & Gardens, Parents, Midwest Living and Food & Wine, among others.
- CNN Enters Streaming Mix with CNN+ – Cable news stalwart CNN has announced it will debut its first streaming service, CNN+, in the first quarter of 2022. The new offering will feature eight to 12 hours of live programming daily, including original series from the network’s archives and new shows exclusive to the platform. Led by CNN’s Chief Digital Officer Andrew Morse, the subscription-based service is anticipated to feature in-depth programming on topics such as climate change, space, science, race and identity.
- Chicago Tribune Names New Executive Editor – Mitch Pugh has joined the Chicago Tribune as the new executive editor. He will fill the role vacated by Colin McMahon who resigned in August. Pugh was previously the executive editor of The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina.
- Wall Street Journal Launches Life & Work Coverage – The financially focused Wall Street Journal has announced a new section called Life & Work. Set to offer insight on the big decisions people face in their lives as well as how they spend, save and invest, the section will include features on how people spend their leisure time and plot their travel. The new coverage will be led by deputy business editor Nikki Waller.
TRENDS IMPACTING THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY
- EU Reinstates Travel Restrictions for U.S. Travelers – After beginning a gradual reopening to American tourists, the European Union removed the U.S. from its safe travel list on Aug. 30 citing the sharp increase in Delta variant cases. Member countries are encouraged to reinstate travel restrictions, and Spain, Italy, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have already tightened vaccination and testing requirements while Sweden has banned nonessential travel from the U.S. almost entirely.
- Business Travel Recovery Stalls – The rebound of business travel has slowed due to new and extended corporate travel restrictions in response to coronavirus surges across the U.S. An August survey funded by the American Hotel & Lodging Association showed more than 60% of business travelers are likely to postpone fall travel plans, while a recent Bloomberg poll shows the impacts may be permanent. Of 45 large companies in the U.S., Europe and Asia surveyed, 84% indicate they plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic.
- Space Travel Blasts Off – The commercial space industry is taking a giant leap toward welcoming paying customers. This summer, Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos took their inaugural trips beyond Earth’s atmosphere aboard missions led by their respective companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. Netflix documented SpaceX’s first all-civilian flight to orbit the Earth in its show “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space” this month. With a series of successful test flights, private space travel could be right around the corner, potentially as soon as next year. Keen interest in the test launches is also driving visitation to the towns of Las Cruces, N.M., Van Horn, Texas, and Boca Chica, Texas, near to where private space entities are headquartered.
- Labor Shortage Continues – Job openings in hotels and restaurants remained unfilled despite high demand over the summer. Travel and hospitality businesses were especially hard hit by the labor shortage, with many having to reduce hours or capacity to uphold service standards. Operators hope the end to the federal government’s additional $300 in weekly unemployment benefits will improve the shortage, though some leading economists point toward lower wages across the industry.
- Canada Open to Vaccinated U.S. Travelers – Canada reopened its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. tourists on Aug. 9 but has drawn fewer than anticipated visitors according to The Wall Street Journal. Complicated vaccination and testing guidelines may be behind the slow restart. Travelers to Canada must provide proof that they completed their COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days prior to entry, in addition to a negative coronavirus test. Penalties for non-compliance with the pandemic policies could be hefty. Two U.S. travelers seeking to enter the country were fined nearly $20,000 each for providing false vaccination records.