A travel boom is coming.
You may be thinking you’ve heard this before, and you’d be right. Last summer, a newly vaccinated America fresh off its last stimulus and an economic reopening began packing its bags. Americans booked plane tickets and hotel rooms, sending travel and leisure spending up before slowing down every time a new variant swept through.
Now that the latest pandemic wave is waning, travelers are optimistic yet again. Hospitality and travel professionals said they’ve seen an upswing in demand as Americans plan spring and summer getaways, reported The Washington Post’s Abba Bhattarai. She called it “revenge travel,” in which Americans are taking advantage of a pandemic lull in the event another variant emerges. But the travel industry may be ill-prepared for the influx of travelers thanks to a mass labor shortage.
While economists are unsure about the extent of this spending boom, it’s different than last year’s in that it comes during 40-year-high inflation and won’t be propelled by government stimulus checks.
“I do expect things to bounce back, but in a broader context, spending has already been very strong,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told The Post. “Omicron dented the economy but did less damage than previous waves.”
Brandon Berkson, founder of the New York-based travel company Hotels Above Par, told CNBC last month that travel will be even busier than pre-pandemic times thanks to consumers who have a stronger desire to travel than ever before. “People want to make up for lost time,” he said.
Monthly consumer spending on hotels and motels, air travel, and amusement parks and campgrounds is the highest it’s been since the coronavirus recession, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Travelers are also willing to drop more than usual after another pandemic winter, Bhattarai reported, with couples tripling or quadrupling what would have been a $25,000 budget before the pandemic.
If 2021 is any indication, it’s likely this wealthier cohort will drive a good chunk of this year’s travel spending. A survey from Accenture and TripAdvisor that polled 1,000 Americans last year found that six-figure earners were leading the way in the jetsetting life, headed up by wealthy millennials.
But it’s not just wanderlusting Americans fueling the travel boom. So, too, are business travelers, the majority of whom believe there will be a business travel boom within their industry by the end of the year as companies resume a sense of normalcy.
It’s contributing to the rise in “bleisure,” or trips that combine business and leisure. Think heading down to Miami for a two-day conference, and staying for an extra few days to make a vacation out of it. It’s similar to a “workcation,” another pandemic travel trend in which travelers stay in a locale for an extended period of time to switch up the work-from-home life.
While all this travel helps stimulate the economy, the travel industry may not be quite ready for such activity. As CNBC reported, the industry (like many others) is suffering from a labor shortage thanks to layoffs and workers quitting in hopes of finding better working conditions. With fewer pilots and crew, airlines have had to cancel or change flights and drop routes from their flight schedule altogether.
As Manoj Chacko, executive vice president of the business management company WNS, told CNBC, “The speed and force of demand could catch some travel industry players off guard.”
A travel boom is coming.