US travel has nearly rebounded from the pandemic, but a global return could take years

Monday, November 22, 2021 by Robinhood Snacks |
When the flight's still on time [Bymuratdeniz/E+ via Getty Images]

When the flight's still on time [Bymuratdeniz/E+ via Getty Images]

Pumpkin pie in the sky... The TSA is prepping for what it expects to be the busiest travel day of the year (FYI: this Sunday). Just a year ago, the vaccine rollout hadn't even begun in the US. Now, 80% of Americans over age 12 have been vaccinated thanks to early vax access, and 18% of adults have received a booster. On Friday, the FDA and CDC cleared Pfizer and Moderna boosters for all adults, making them widely available in time for the holidays.

Bags packed, potatoes mashed... The vax rollout has benefited travel companies, as Americans make up for lost vacays. US travelers are splurging 46% more on trips this year compared to pre-pandemic.

  • By air... Domestic air travel has almost completely recovered from its pandemic plunge, and Thanksgiving flyers are expected to hit pre-corona levels. Delta and American have returned to profitability. But they still expect revenue to be down by about 20% from pre-pandemic to end the year.
  • By road... T-giving trips are coming up for over 48M Americans. Too bad car-rental prices are up 75% from 2019. Not bad for companies like Hertz, whose sales soared 62% last quarter from the start of this year. With US gas prices at seven-year highs, oil giants like Exxon and Chevron could also benefit from holiday mileage.
  • By stay... Only about 22% of Americans plan to stay in hotels this season. Room prices have jumped as demand recovers, but sales at Hilton and Marriott are still down from pre-pandemic. Marriott’s international bookings plunged a whopping 40% from 2019, as overseas travel continues to lag US leisure. On the flip side, Airbnb just had its best quarter ever, as travelers embraced longer-term stays in rural cabins and yurts.

The recovery journey isn't over... While US domestic leisure travel is expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2022, business and international travel — which makes up the bulk of airline and hotel sales — isn’t expected to fully recover until at least 2024. But President Biden’s recent announcement that vaccinated tourists can enter the US bodes well for the travel industry.