Travel companies are preparing for another wave of travel bookings after the United States dropped its requirement that incoming travelers test negative for Covid.
The size of the increase is not yet clear. But early data suggests that ending the testing requirement appears to have boosted international demand from domestic and foreign points of sale.
United reported that in the first three days after announcing the change, searches for international travel were up 7% over the course of the week, totaling more than 2.4 million searches.
Searches for US points of origin increased 7.6%, while searches for US travel from abroad increased 6.9%, United said. The majority of US travelers’ searches were for trips this summer to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe.
Similarly, Expedia reported that in the first two and a half days after the authorization was dropped on June 12, more than half of international flight searches made for US points of origin were for travel within the next month and a half. Top research destinations included cities in the Dominican Republic and Mexico as well as London, Paris, Rome and Toronto.
Expedia said searches for UK points of origin for US travel increased more than 10% in the same period.
Delta said on June 15 it had seen an increase in searches and bookings for international destinations, but declined to share details. Meanwhile, Hooper said bookings to international destinations from the United States increased 8% on June 10, the day the rule change was announced.
Tour operators see a slight rise
Tour operators and river cruise operators said it was too early to tell how much business would come as a result of the relaxed policy. But some suppliers said they had already noticed a difference.
“We started seeing a slight uptick in bookings prior to the announcement, and business has started to recover steadily since then,” said Stephanie Schmodd, vice president of product development and operations at Abercrombie & Kent. “We continue to receive many questions from travel advisors and their clients, but the fear of traveling internationally and not being able to return home has definitely abated since the last announcement.”
Melissa da Silva, president of TTC Tour Brands, the tour operator arm of Travel Corporation, said the company is “confident” it will see a surge of interest in the coming days and weeks.
“We know that the repatriation test was a barrier and a fear for many travelers to book that international ticket,” she said. “We are ready to meet the demand.”
Jeff Roy, Collette’s executive vice president, said the company expects a significant decline in another booking trend in the Covid era: last-minute cancellations due to testing and quarantine requirements.
At the Travel Leaders Edge Conference in Aurora, Colorado, this week, Travel Leaders Group President John Lovell said he expects European travel to begin as a result.
“People just want to go back to Europe. That’s what we see and that’s what we hear,” he said. “So we hope to see in the next two to three weeks that demand starts making its way through the conversion funnel.”
Removing the “biggest obstacle” to travel recovery
The decision to rescind that requirement came just days after the travel and tourism associations, which have been pressing the Biden administration to repeal for months, vowed to be “aggressive.” Leaders from hospitality and travel consultants have publicly criticized the policy, saying it is dampening demand for travel and negatively impacting job growth.
Many travel sellers have attributed their optimism about future sales based on what their customers have told them over the past few months: If there’s a chance they won’t be able to return to the US because of a positive Covid test, they don’t travel.
“Staying at the destination out of fear of a positive test result was one of the biggest hurdles we faced,” said Helen Giuntsis, president of Kensington Tours.
“My work in Europe this summer has been on the decline due to the incoming test rule,” said Tony Lanotte Day, river cruise consultant and owner of Tony Tours. “All of my river cruise bookings for this year are from September onwards. My clients have all been worried about positive tests and layoffs.”
Rescinding the order, the CDC recommended that travelers voluntarily test themselves more than three days before travelling.
It added that it would continue to monitor the epidemic situation and would “re-evaluate the need for the testing requirement if the situation changes.”
Airport delays and cancellations
But a number of travel-related issues unrelated to Covid and more with increased demand and staff shortages will test the optimism of suppliers and consultants for a quick period of travel recovery.
“Airport delays and flight cancellations remain a concern,” Schmod said, adding that space availability was also an issue for several months before testing requirements expired.
“There have already been issues with availability in North America and Europe, not only with accommodations but also with quality A and K guides and appropriate vehicles. Some areas are completely sold out for summer, and fall dates are filling quickly. We are seeing unprecedented global demand for travel until 2023″.
Jimmy Bisada contributed to this report.