Personal finance

Americans are ready to travel as their omicron fears fade

Göreme, in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey.
Westend61 | Westend61 | Getty Images

Americans’ enthusiasm for travel has rebounded to levels unseen since the broad rollout of Covid-19 vaccines last year, as their wanderlust eclipses hesitation fueled by the omicron and delta virus variants.

Nearly 82% of people are in a “ready to travel” mindset in 2022 — a 5-percentage-point increase in just the last two weeks, according to a survey of 1,200 American travelers published Monday by Destination Analysts, a tourism market research firm.

The findings suggest would-be travelers have largely brushed off the shock of the highly contagious omicron variant, which pushed caseloads to record levels and upended travel plans over the winter holiday season.

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“Travel sentiment recovered very quickly,” said Erin Francis-Cummings, president and CEO of Destination Analysts, which has conducted bi-weekly polls of U.S. travelers since March 2020. “The ready-to-go mindset is essentially the highest it’s been,” she added, calling the metric a leading indicator of optimism.

More than 92% of respondents will take at least one trip in the next 12 months; they expect to take 3.3 leisure trips, on average, the highest share in 14 months, according to the survey, conducted Jan. 26-28. Over three-quarters have dreamed about and planned travel just in the last week — a rate unseen since last summer.

Travel enthusiasm had previously begun gaining steam around midyear 2021, when a broad swath of Americans became eligible for a Covid vaccine. But the delta variant dampened that outlook, and again when omicron fears emerged around Thanksgiving.  

“Early summer 2021 was the prior apex,” Francis-Cummings said. “We’re starting to see that apex again.”

“Omicron definitely had an impact: People canceled and postponed trips,” she added. “It didn’t have as deep or as long of an impact as delta did.”

Pandemic optimism

The North Cascades mountain range spans the state of Washington and British Columbia, Canada.
Tegra Stone Nuess | Stone | Getty Images

Respondents’ optimism about the course of the pandemic over the next month jumped 11 percentage points to about 42% in the last two weeks, exceeding the post-delta-variant recovery, Destination Analysts said.

About 81% of travelers polled by Destination Analysts are fully vaccinated — well above the 68% of overall Americans age 5 and older, the population currently eligible for a shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Travel site Hopper is forecasting prices for domestic airfare will jump 7%, on average, each month until June, “driven by demand recovery following the omicron variant wave.”

Travel sentiment recovered very quickly.
Erin Francis-Cummings
president and CEO of Destination Analysts

That’s well above the typical 2% monthly pre-pandemic airfare increases heading into the summer, according to the company’s Consumer Airfare Index published Jan. 19. Domestic prices will hit 2019 levels by April 2022, it said.

Prices for international flights are at record lows for January, averaging $649 round-trip, but are expected to rebound by 5%, on average, a month until June, Hopper said. Fares began dropping the last week of November, when the World Health Organization classified omicron as a variant of concern.

International travel likely poses some additional hurdles for travelers, with many countries imposing testing and other requirements for entry. (The U.S. also requires a negative test for re-entry.) Some countries haven’t yet re-opened their borders to American travelers.

Wherever the destination, Americans traveling in 2022 plan to go big. The average traveler plans to spend more than $4,100 on leisure travel this year, up over $200 from early January, according to Destination Analysts.

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