Mark McFadden, Ed.D.
Chair, Department of Business, Fashion and Leadership, Associate Professor of Business
For Christmas 2019, my father-in-law gave our family a cruise vacation. Thirteen of us were excited to explore the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada. However, when the pandemic hit, and the cruise line offered a full refund, we decided that we were better safe than sorry. At that time, we did not know what was going to happen to the world, but the thought of being stuck in a tiny room on a cruise ship with three other people was terrifying, even if it was my family!
In what might be the most obvious statement ever written, a lot has changed in our world since March 11, 2020. That was the night the Utah Jazz announced center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, which ultimately led to the cancellation of the NBA season. This was shortly followed by the cancellation of March Madness, and the realization that the pandemic would affect college and professional sports. Entertainment and travel, at least what we knew in days before the pandemic, could be different for a while.
On March 11, 2021, one year following the cancellation of the NBA season, air travel was down almost 40% from the previous year according to the Transportation Security Administration, and almost half of what it was on the same date in 2019. The outlook heading into spring this year was still pretty bleak. With government shutdowns still in effect in many states, and less than 15% of Americans vaccinated at that point, the prospects of normal vacations were still in question.
However, as we now move into the summer, air travel is picking up. The TSA reported an increase of over 500% in air travelers the first week in June this year over last. Of course, many flights were cancelled, and the world pretty much shut down last summer, so this is not really a fair comparison. However, if we look at the recovery over two years, about 75% of air travel has resumed compared to early June 2019.
How businesses operate in a post-pandemic world will be interesting to see. Business travel, according to Investopedia, makes up about 12% of air travel, but around 75% of airline profits. Part of the reason for this is vacationers tend to plan trips well in advance of travel, whereas business travel is arranged with little notice. Now that video conferences have become the norm in a world-wide attempt to remain contactless, how much business travel rebounds will have a direct impact on travel and tourism, especially when considering the costs associated with flying.
Regardless of the cost, however, after a year of being stuck at home, many are suffering from wanderlust and need to get away. In a survey conducted earlier this year, nearly 70% of respondents said they plan to take at least one trip in 2021. Many suggested that much of the pandemic was spent planning vacations, and now that vaccines are becoming common place, it is time to experience rather than fantasize.
Some trepidations still exist around air travel. According to the online travel site TripIt, only one in three potential travelers is ready to congregate in an airport and sit next to a stranger on an airplane. However, this does not mean that these travelers will stay home this summer. The same survey suggests 83% will take a road trip this year. Here, comfort levels have returned to 2019 levels, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
For Memorial Day weekend, my daughter and I hit the road for a volleyball tournament in Pittsburgh. Not necessarily the dream vacation we considered during our pandemic, but an opportunity to be on the road again. We took the four-hour drive west on the PA Turnpike and spent some of our first nights in a hotel in over a year. The convention center, which hosted nearly 300 volleyball teams from all over the U.S. and Canada, was packed. Except for masks on all players and spectators, the tournament had a 2019 feel to it. Restaurants in downtown Pittsburgh were packed. The parking garage at the convention center was full. The hotel pool was filled. Travel is making a comeback.
I am not so sure that I am ready to get back on a cruise ship yet. The thought of being crammed into an airplane is also still a little concerning. While I will continue to be conscious about the health and safety of my family, I think I am ready to get back into the world, and it looks as if, as we head into the summer of 2021, many of you are with me.