When will travel recover?
JT Gente, Caroline Lupini/ Forbes
Almost a year ago, the novel coronavirus locked down the world. Over 100 million people are confirmed to have been infected and Covid-19 has killed over 2 million people worldwide. In addition to the health tragedy, the raging pandemic has severely affected industries from entertainment to restaurants. One of the hardest hit sectors has been the travel industry.
International borders closed in spring 2020 and some have remained closed since. Who knows when travelers will be able to visit Australia or New Zealand again—which have both managed to virtually eliminate local spread. While domestic U.S. travel has seen relatively few restrictions, there are now discussions of requiring Covid testing even before domestic flights. That’s sure to reduce the spread, but it would also deliver another crushing blow to an already struggling industry.
So, when will travel recover? That’s the $8.9 trillion question. With emerging new variants and vaccine distribution delays, that’s a question that we can only guess at the answer to. Still, it’s a question so many of us are asking right now. So, we talked to travel experts from all parts of the industry to get their best guess.
Travel Will Recover in Stages
Perhaps no one has a better finger on the pulse of the airline industry than Edward “Ned” Russell, an Airlines Reporter for Skift. We checked in with him about when he thought Americans would take to the skies en masse once again.
Not surprisingly, he sees the recovery in air travel closely tied to vaccine distribution. Ned sees a strong recovery for leisure travel “as vaccines become widely available later this year.” That will be a boon for airlines that cater to “budget-minded holiday-goers.”
However, business travel won’t be as quick to return. Ned estimates the return of “these coveted passengers” will still take a few years.
Likewise, Ned notes that “international travel will take longer to recover than domestic,” with the recovery happening in stages. He sees the return of travel “between allies and developed countries”—like the U.S. and the United Kingdom—coming back “sooner than in markets that struggle to get vaccines in people’s arms.” Travelers are Booking Cheap Flights Now
Optimistic travelers aren’t waiting to get the vaccine to start booking flights. “We hear from members every day who are booking cheap flights for future travel,” notes Scott Keyes, Founder and Chief Flight Expert at Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Scott sees a combination of factors driving these bookings. First, travelers are expecting the widespread availability of vaccines in the next few months and hope that this will unlock international travel once again.
Also, it’s fairly low risk for travelers to book travel now. Many airlines are currently offering flexibility on flight bookings—even in basic economy. Travelers can use this flexibility to “push their travel back with no penalty if they don’t feel it’s safe come their original travel dates.”