Americans are beginning to travel again, driven by pent-up demand to get out and explore, optimism based on the United States’ very speedy Covid vaccine rollout and travel companies’ super flexible cancellation policies.
A large majority (71%*) of Americans say that the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines makes them feel more hopeful and optimistic about traveling in 2021, according to new research from Booking.com. Even before last Friday, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that fully vaccinated people can travel again at low risk to themselves, millions of Americans were already booking trips.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has screened over one million air travelers per day, every day, for the past three weeks — and five of those days surpassed 1.5 million travelers, according to the agency’s throughput data. That’s still well below the 2-million-plus airline passengers screened over the same period in 2019, but 10 times more than the same period in 2020.
More butts in airline seats is fantastic news for the pandemic-ravaged travel industry, which lost 62 million jobs in 2020, according to research from the World Travel & Tourism Council. The six largest U.S. airlines lost more than $35 billion last year, while the U.S. hotel industry lost another $17 billion, which in turn translated to huge losses in tax revenue for state and local governments.
“We need to do what we can to bring back the industry,” says Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking.com. Like its main competitors — Expedia, Tripadvisor and Airbnb — Booking.com was forced to restructure and cut jobs last summer due to the pandemic. “It was devastating,” says Fogel. “We ended up losing 23% of our employees globally.”
Half a year later, Fogel likes what he sees on the horizon for summer 2021, thanks in large part to the vaccine rollout. “We are in a good place now,” he says. “The vaccinations are rolling out, and everyone is feeling good.”
In a recent Booking.com survey, a majority (57%) of respondents said they would accept if they could only travel if they provided proof they’ve been vaccinated for Covid-19 and 65% said they would agree to provide a recent negative Covid-19 test before traveling.
“I believe that having a way to prove that I’m a safe traveler and that would let me go to places that I wouldn’t be able to go otherwise is a good thing because it only adds to my flexibility,” says Fogel, adding that vaccines will help build back the travel industry faster.
The Booking.com CEO is also heartened to see airline CEOs adding routes and putting planes back into production. “They believe the summer is going to have an increase in travel and they are getting ready for it,” says Fogel. “So I do believe there will be a tremendous amount of people who are very interested in getting on plane, mostly domestically though.”
But Fogel warns that travelers contemplating a summer trip should start making plans and locking in their reservations now because they’ll pay more if they wait. “We know prices are going up,” he says. “Prices will continue to rise as demand continues to increase, as people get vaccinated.”
To encourage Americans to book sooner rather than later, Booking.com has launched a promotion that will provide a $50 post-stay travel credit for a future trip. You have to activate the promotion by April 30, 2021, by downloading the Booking.com app and clicking the “activate promotion” button, or you can do it through the Booking.com website. Then book a stay by May 31, 2021 and complete that stay by December 31, 2021. After your first stay, the $50 promotional travel credit will be automatically deposited in your Booking.com account, redeemable for one year for a future trip on select properties.
What’s more, says Fogel, booking your summer vacation now and locking in current prices is virtually risk free because most airlines and hotels have dropped cancellation fees. “It is really important to know how much of our inventory is completely free to cancel,” he says. “If for any reason your plans change or you’re just not feeling comfortable, you can cancel at no cost. This is the opportunity to go and find the place you want now before it gets filled up, before the price goes up — and in addition, you’ll get that $50 credit which is icing on the cake.”