America is in a different place than it was in 2020 when the pandemic struck and left the travel industry reeling. As 65% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and 56% is fully vaccinated, things are looking up. However, while the travel industry has regained some of its footing, it still hasn’t reached full recovery. Part of the problem is the rise and spread of the delta variant. But how much damage will this new strain of the coronavirus prove to be? Here’s what travel industry experts had to say about the possibility of people delaying or canceling travel over the Delta variant.
Will the Travel Industry Be Dealt Another Big Blow by the Continuing Spread of the Delta Variant?
Lauren Doyle, president of The Travel Mechanic, a member of Ensemble Travel Group, believes it will. “It has already started to impact travel this early fall and we are seeing people holding off on travel plans,” she said. “While travel had started to really pick up in early summer as the vaccination rate was on the rise, the Delta variant has definitely put a damper on that and people are feeling uncertain about its impact and are taking a more wait-and-see approach to booking travel in the coming weeks or months and instead looking at trips in 2022 and beyond.”
Amanda Hand, with G1G Travel Insurance, has a slightly more optimistic view.
“While travel isn’t expected to fully recover until 2024, we’re seeing positive signs that travelers will still make bookings in 2021 and 2022,” Hand said. “Many travelers are taking advantage of Cancel for Any Reason travel insurance, which gives them complete flexibility over their trip. These plans give travelers the ability to plan during highly uncertain times without having to put their travel investment on the line.
“Even though we’ve seen a 60% increase in CFAR purchases, we’re still not seeing the same volume in travel as we did in 2019. That doesn’t mean we’re expected to see a halt, but we do expect a slow recovery given the state of the pandemic.”
How Will the Delta Variant Impact Travel That Was Postponed in 2020?
Domestic travel delayed in 2020 will likely be able to proceed, said Tim Hentschel, CEO and founder of HotelPlanner. “Some people may choose to stay home, but many people will proceed with their domestic travel. Big destinations, like Disney World, have stayed open throughout 2021, and they will likely see larger crowds, including families who delayed 2020 travel. Broadway is reopening this week, and New York City will surely see more travelers in quarter four than the rest of the year, with their biggest tourist attraction opening its doors again. In regards to international trips, this will all depend on the rate of COVID-19 in foreign countries and how governments choose to respond. We’ve seen certain countries, such as Israel, open up then restrict travelers entering the country. So international travel may remain in flux, and families’ big international trips could get delayed again.”
How Will It Affect Off-Season and Holiday Travel?
It’s inevitable that the rise of the Delta variant will affect off-season and holiday travel, but to what degree?
“So far, I have had five trips to Hawaii and one trip to Kenya canceled by clients,” said Tracy Shatz, the president of Elite Travel Journeys. “These clients are even stating that they will let me know if they decide to go, instead of simply pushing travel off until later in 2022 or 2023. With this news, I expect that fewer people will be traveling during the off-season and the holidays this year.”
Doyle agreed that travelers are proceeding with caution. “We are seeing a lot of people still planning to travel for the holidays, but many are looking at where there is a low number of COVID cases and where there is an emphasis on safety measures whether it is having to show a vaccination passport, wear a mask or other protocols aimed at limiting any spread of the virus.”
However, Gabie Saglie, a senior editor with Travelzoo, believes that even if fewer people are willing to travel during the off-season, an increase in holiday travel will occur. “Signs still point to a robust holiday season, with demand ramping up especially from Dec. 16 onward; a recent survey of our US members showed that 60% want to plan a family reunion during the holiday season, increasing odds that more people and larger groups will take advantage of end-of-year time off and looser schedules,” she said
And Hentschel said that his company has seen an increase in people booking hotel reservations and plane tickets the week (or even the day) they are planning to travel. “This is an example of the biggest rules of COVID-19 travel: Prepare for the unexpected,” he said. “This will be the biggest impact of holiday travel. People will travel but they will travel differently. As a travel technology company, we are advising travelers to research Covid policies before they book holiday travel and to account for extra time. If you think LAX was bad during the holiday season of 2019, wait till you see LAX during 2021.”
Here are some additional pieces of travel advice from Hentschel:
“Prepare for bad traffic and huge delays. Allow two hours lead time for domestic flights and three hours for outbound travel.
Make sure your passport is at least six months from expiring since there is a big delay in processing new passports.
Be flexible and understanding of unexpected changes during your departure, arrival, and during your return home.
Travel insurance may well be worth the added cost if you want maximum flexibility in case you decide to cancel your trip.”
“And, most importantly,” Hentschel said. “Do your research on what that city and its venues and businesses are mandating (i.e. masks, vaccine passports, etcetera ). For example, if you’re planning on attending the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with your family on vacation in NYC, you’ll need a vaccine passport and mask. If you’re heading to Florida to see grandma and grandpa, you won’t need anything. When in doubt, pack a mask.”
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Last updated: Sept. 24, 2021