Wed, 06 Jul 2022

© Provided by Xinhua

Hotel room demand, while down in total, must be up by a very large percentage for the domestic segment, says NTTO.

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, May 25 (Xinhua) -- Memorial Day travel is expected to hit record levels, and that underscores a wider U.S. travel boom that's occurring after two long years of work-from-home drudgery.

American Automobile Association (AAA), a national auto club, forecast that 39.2 million people will travel over the course of this weekend's Memorial Day holiday - a rise of 8.3 percent over last year.

That's just shy of the 42.8 million travelers AAA tracked on Memorial Day 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Current data "shows people have a strong desire to travel," Ellen Edmonds, director of external communications at AAA, told Xinhua.

In March, U.S. travel spending surged to 95 billion U.S. dollars, which amounted to just 5 percent below levels seen in 2019, before the pandemic, according to the U.S. Travel Association, a Washington, D.C.-based organization representing all segments of travel in the United States.

Millions have worked from home over the last two years and put off vacations for reasons including fear of contracting COVID-19 and draconian restrictions at some U.S. vacation destinations.

With a significant chunk of the nation vaccinated, Americans are ready to shell out big bucks for travel.

They're tapping into what The New York Times reported to be 2.7 trillion U.S. dollars Americans have collectively saved during the pandemic.

© Provided by Xinhua

Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at The Economic Outlook Group, told Xinhua: "People have been cooped up for quite a long time, they have been saving up some funds, and now they see an opportunity to get out of the house and do some traveling."

Moreover, people are willing to pay higher prices to travel, in spite of surging prices for gas, hotel rooms and air tickets.

According to Smith Travel Research, room rates are up 8.8 percent in April 2022, compared with the same month in 2019.

However, lodging sector recovery is very uneven, according to analysis from the National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

At one extreme is Miami, where there's been a 31 percent increase in room revenue from January to April, compared with 2019. In sharp contrast, San Francisco is still down 54 percent, according to NTTO analysis.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, international travelers accounted for about 18 percent of total traveler accommodations demand in 2019.

Therefore, hotel room demand, while down in total, must be up by a very large percentage for the domestic segment, according to NTTO analysis.

That means households are the driving force in this record domestic travel segment, the analysis showed.

Meanwhile, United Airlines last month forecast it would see its highest quarterly revenue in history in this year's second quarter.

In January, major travel booking site Expedia Group conducted a poll which found that over 80 percent of U.S. adults planned a minimum of one vacation over the next half year.

© Provided by Xinhua

However, vacations represent "non-recurrent" spending. Consumers will spend on a trip, come home, and then focus their spending on staple goods, Baumohl noted.

That raises the question of how long the rise in travel will continue.

Moreover, international travel does not seem to be booming as much as domestic travel.

One factor putting a damper on outbound travel from the United States is that U.S. citizens must present a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flight home. If they test positive, they may have to undergo mandatory quarantine abroad, according to the U.S. State Department's website.

Travelers with whom Xinhua has spoken worry this could present a grave danger to U.S. citizens traveling in countries with high levels of police corruption, or in nations hostile to Americans. A U.S. citizen with a positive COVID test could attract unwanted attention from local law enforcement, for example.

Alison Smith - not her real name - a barista in a coffee shop just outside Washington D.C., told Xinhua she had traveled abroad a few months back.

She did not agree with the requirement of having to present a negative COVID test before returning, she said.

The travel industry has been lobbying hard to get rid of the rule, but the White House has not indicated there is any rush to change it.

While some epidemiologists have argued that such policies could slow the spread of the virus, some economists said lifting that restriction could spark an outbound travel boom among Americans.

"You could see, I'm sure, the numbers exponentially increase under those circumstances, because they don't have to worry" about complications re-entering the United States, Baumohl said.

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