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This past March, travel companies of all varieties took major losses as the spread of the coronavirus motivated lockdowns from countries all over the world. Even without lockdowns in place, millions of people canceled their travel plans and avoided excessive travel at all costs, working from home instead of commuting and delaying vacations and trips for future, post-COVID-19 years.

Economic pessimists immediately feared the worst, projecting that major airliners, cruise liners, and other travel companies would go bankrupt relatively quickly. But while the immediate aftermath was both economically difficult and chaotic, it appears the travel industry may be in a position to start recovering.

The Latest Information on the Travel Industry

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the weekend of October 16 to 18 set a new record for the COVID-19 pandemic; more people flew during this weekend than at any other point during the lockdowns. At airport checkpoints, the TSA screened more than 1 million passengers, exceeding this threshold for the first time since March 17. At checkpoints throughout the week of October 12 to October 18, the TSA screened more than 6.1 million passengers. This, too, is the highest recorded number for its category since the start of the pandemic.

Overall, passenger volumes remain low when compared to pre-pandemic figures. Fewer people are traveling now than were traveling at this point in time last year. However, we’re seeing a significant surge in activity compared to earlier stages of the pandemic.

Motivations for the Travel Surge

What could account for this surge in traveler activity?

There are a handful of possible explanations:

  • Lockdown fatigue. First, and perhaps most obviously, people may be suffering from a sense of lockdown fatigue. Many people have dutifully followed lockdown orders and have restricted their movements for more than 6 months now. They’ve canceled trips, postponed travel, and have worked from home. They’ve been feeling lonely, pent up, and eager to get out of the house more often. Over time, these feelings grow, and while this fatigue sets in at different rates for different people, eventually almost anyone would be motivated to leave the house and/or travel more frequently.
  • Perception of improvement. It could also be that citizens feel that there is a major trend of improvement in the number of COVID-19 cases, incentivizing them to travel more frequently. This doesn’t quite align with the data, as there has recently been a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in many different areas of the country. However, the length of time that has passed and the lack of immediate experience with the virus may provide people with a different internal picture of what’s really happening.
  • Eased restrictions. While many countries still have at least some travel restrictions in place, prohibiting people from coming into the country under certain circumstances, compared to the start of the pandemic, most restrictions have loosened. It’s much easier to travel now than it was 6 months ago—at least to most destinations. You’ll still need to prepare for your travel; not only will you need basic documentation, like an ESTA or a visa if you’re traveling to certain countries, but you’ll also need to investigate travel restrictions in your home and destination before beginning your journey.
  • Stimulus anticipation. American politicians are currently arguing about how and when to release another COVID-19 relief stimulus package, which could be a financial boon to consumers. It’s difficult to say exactly what is motivating politicians, especially on the verge of a major presidential election. However, it seems like most people feel like the stimulus package is inevitable—it’s just a matter of how and when it’s going to be released. The anticipation of extra income could be motivating people to travel more.
  • Faith in protective measures. The TSA and airports all over the world have invested in protective measures to keep themselves and their passengers safer during the pandemic. Travelers may be banking on the fact that airports have adapted to the new normal, and are enforcing things like face masks and social distancing. This may give them a feeling of safety and security that motivates them to pursue travel when they otherwise wouldn’t.

The Future of the Travel Industry

It’s hard to say what, exactly, is motivating this recent surge in travel and whether or not that surge will continue in a trend of growth. It’s also hard to say whether this increase in the number of passengers will be enough to help the travel industry recover. For more than half the year, traveler numbers have been at record lows, and there are many new challenges for businesses in this industry to conquer. No matter what, the travel industry won’t be able to escape the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed.

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