Travel Getting Back to Normal After Post-Pandemic Surge

June 20, 2023 by Kennedy Thomason
Travel Getting Back to Normal After Post-Pandemic Surge
(Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — After months of elevated domestic travel rates — a byproduct of demand pent up by the coronavirus pandemic — crowds at the nation’s airports and other departure points appear to be returning to a pre-pandemic normal, while international travel rates continue their slow but continuous rebound.

That assessment comes from the U.S. Travel Association, which in a new report offers its projections for leisure, business and international travel through 2026.

“Robust domestic leisure travel demand has been the driving force in the overall industry’s post-pandemic comeback,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman in a written statement. 

“Though the surge we experienced in the last year is starting to moderate, we expect this segment to remain resilient in coming quarters,” he said.

As part of its analysis, the association also outlined four federal policies it says will promote continued growth in the travel sector.

First, it’s throwing its support behind the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2023, a bipartisan measure intended to ensure the United States has safe, reliable and resilient air travel, stronger consumer protections for the flying public, advanced research in aviation innovation and a modernized national airspace system to maintain aviation safety for years to come.

Second, it continues to push for decreased wait times for visitor visas, waits that can extend for as long as 400 days and often discourage people from trying to visit the United States.

Similarly, the association says it is working towards reducing Customs wait times at U.S. airports and, finally, it is continuing to press for the travel industry to become a point of emphasis for lawmakers at the federal level.

“We’ve had meetings as recently as today with the Department of Homeland Security,” said Tori Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for the association.

“We know that this is something that’s on their radar, and they are doing what they can to improve the process at airports,” she said. 

The travel forecast predicts that business and international travel volume rates will not surpass the 2019 level until 2025.

Barnes said that business travel’s slower time frame to bounce back is because of the economy and adapted business models.

“You’ve got a lot more hybrid options coming out of the pandemic still, constrained budgets that are exacerbated by inflation and the risk of a recession,” Barnes said. “And so those are really key indicators and challenges still on the horizon for business travel.”

These trends have also been reported by businesses in the travel industry. 

Southwest Airlines said it does not comment on third-party forecasts, but in a first quarter 2023 conference call, Ryan Green, executive vice president and chief commercial officer for the airline, said travel is returning to normal. 

“In terms of the leisure booking curve, it has moved further out from what we saw last summer and fall, and seems to have more or less normalized to pre-pandemic levels,” Green said. 

“Leisure demand and yields, which are well above pre-pandemic levels, continue to be strong heading into summer,” he added.

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