Travel industry already shows signs of perking up after vaccine news, Biden victory

In one travel survey, 72 percent of respondents said they were ready to travel and 92 percent said that the election made them want to travel.
Image: Tegel Airport in Berlin
A passenger wearing a protective face mask walks past a flight display board at Tegel Airport in Berlin on Oct. 14, 2020.John MacDougall / AFP - Getty Images

The travel industry has lost $443 billion since the coronavirus took hold in March, according to the U.S. Travel Association, an industry nonprofit. While those losses are sure to increase as the recent spike in Covid-19 infection rates keeps many travelers grounded, some industry experts say they are buoyed by President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration and positive vaccine news from Pfizer.

“I’m more confident, but not quite ready to book,” said Kevin Fansler, a self-described ‘travel fan' based in Seattle. His choir tour of South Africa was postponed due to Covid-19, but he is looking forward to a Biden administration “that will save the American passport from its current toxicity.”

The USTA said it applauds “President-elect Biden’s objective of helping the industries most heavily impacted by the pandemic," adding that the travel industry currently accounts for more than one-third of job losses since March.

Travel experts say the main challenge for the new administration will be to find the right balance between testing and quarantine rules, along with vaccine development and distribution. Doing so will be “absolutely critical to get right in order for the travel industry to recover,” said Eben Peck, executive vice president for advocacy at the American Society of Travel Advisors.

Travel agencies — and grounded travelers — say there is pent-up demand to get back in the skies.

Theresa Kauffman of Fort Worth, Texas, said she is anxious to travel to see her parents and her mother-in-law.

“You know how when you’re sick and get diagnosed by a doctor and you feel relieved to have a plan? That’s how this feels for travel,” Kauffman told NBC News. With the vaccine news, “it feels like we can start to hope again,” she said.

Michelle Duffy, an IT professional in the San Francisco Bay Area, said she is confident enough about the future to buy a plane ticket for international travel. “Once it looked like Biden would be successful, we booked San Francisco to Dublin flights for my sister’s wedding in April 2021,” Duffy said. “My husband and I are both Irish, and most of our families are in Ireland. We haven’t seen them in person all year.”

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In a pre-election survey of clients by the Virtuoso luxury travel network, 72 percent said they were ready to travel and 92 percent said that the election made them want to travel.

“We’re already seeing evidence of that confidence coming back, with people booking stays for Thanksgiving and the holiday season,” said Virtuoso managing director Misty Belles.

Travel metrics already indicate that more people are considering traveling. On Monday 9 November — the first weekday after Biden's win was announced and the day Pfizer revealed its vaccine study results — travel searches on the Kayak booking site surged by 8 percent week over week and were up 21 percent from Election Day, the company told NBC News.

It's not just leisure travelers who are anxious to get back on the road. The pandemic has forced many college students to forego travel and study experiences abroad, said Michael Huntsberger, media professor at Linfield University near Portland, Oregon.

"Students are anticipating future opportunities as soon as travel restrictions are lifted and safety protocols are in place," he said.